World on a Page: Women, Wives, and Headscarves

Leading women: Viviane Reding (left) and Angela Merkel. Thierry Roge / Reuters-Landov

Cherchez La Femme

Women are all the rage—or, better put, the source of all rage—at the European Union these days. After an acrimonious debate, the EU’s commissioners (i.e., ministers) shelved plans for legislation that would make it compulsory for all company boards in Europe to have at least 40 percent of directors be female. The brainchild of Viviane Reding, the justice commissioner, this gender-booster plan flew into intense flak from fellow commissioners. Counter-stereotypically, many of Reding’s most adamant opponents were her female colleagues. These included Lady Ashton (commissioner for foreign policy), Neelie Kroes (telecoms), Connie Hedegaard (environment), Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (innovation), and Cecilia Malmström (interior). Reding’s supporters in the EU cabinet, to round off the paradox, were mostly male. Male, too, is the board of the European Central Bank, another EU battleground for women. Last Thursday, the European Parliament in Brussels vetoed the appointment of Yves Mersch (male), Luxembourg’s central banker—whose candidacy had been championed by EU President Herman Van Rompuy (male)—to the six-person ECB board (male to the last member). The veto is not binding, but it is certainly a pointed kick in Van Rompuy’s most delicate (male) parts.

Marry him!

Whatever one’s view of François Hollande’s presidency to date, few would disagree that his common-law partner and first lady, Valérie Trierweiler, has offered a richness of entertainment unsurpassed in the Élysée Palace since the days when President Giscard d’Estaing dabbled (or so it was said) in African dictators’ diamonds. The latest episode in the soap opera that some have dubbed Real Housewives of Paris brings us a homily from Carla Bruni, France’s first lady emerita, in which she tutors her successor on the therapeutic effects of marriage. Bruni had this to say to Trierweiler, a woman who is as yet unwed to Hollande after seven years together, and of whom two thirds of the French disapprove (for reasons related to her temperament, it should be stressed): “I think it is simpler to be the legitimate wife of the head of state rather than being his partner,” she mused to French Elle magazine. “Maybe I’m wrong,” she continued, “and their choice is a modern one. But for my part I felt a real easing of the general worry about me when I married Nicolas.” (Readers will remember that the Nicolas in question—Sarkozy—was elected president in May 2007, divorced his second wife in October, met Bruni in November, and married her, with admirable velocity, in February 2008.)

‘Wen Jiabao: Howso Rich?’

This is the question China’s people are asking themselves after The New York Times published a memorable scoop detailing the impressive (and undoubtedly ill-gotten) wealth of the Chinese premier’s close family. The piece cements the Times’ position as the world’s preeminent investigative newspaper, and prompts the offering of two predictions: the scandal will rock China, in the form of a corruption “Watergate”; and the reporter who wrote the story, David Barboza, will win a Pulitzer for it.

Political Cover

world-NB30-bosnia Amra Babic: Hijab in high places. Amel Emric / AP

The people of the Bosnian town of Visoko have elected their country’s very first hijab-wearing mayor. Amra Babic says her election “is a victory of tolerance,” adding for emphasis that “I am the East and I am the West.” Not everyone is as sanguine. A historian of the region told this columnist that “this is not a happy day for the Bosnians.” They “used to be proud that palm trees did not grow on their soil, that they grew apples there, that they were different from the more arid lands of Islam. But conservative Islam now makes its home in Europe. The Muslim modernists were hell-bent on banning the hijab, but they have lost heart now; and the gatekeepers in the West, in the name of multiculturalism, don’t mind it. It’s sad and ironic.” In another sense, of course, the development was inevitable. The horrors endured by the Muslim Bosnians in the 1990s, against the background of European indifference, set them free from European judgments. Babic herself seems ripe for emulation in the Muslim world: a woman so Islamic that she wears a hijab, but one who actually runs for office and gets elected.

With Luke Darby and Jane Teeling