European lawmakers Tuesday blocked the nomination of Luxembourg's Yves Mersch to a top job on the all-male European Central Bank's executive board, demanding governments come up with female candidates instead.
The parliament's economics committee said it would not take up Mersch's candidacy and called on Luxembourg Premier Jean-Claude Juncker -- who is also head of the Eurogroup of finance ministers -- to give an explanation to parliament.
The issue has been building since eurozone finance ministers nominated Luxembourg central bank chief Mersch in July to replace Spain's Manuel Gonzalez Paramo in what was seen as a political deal.
European governments have the ultimate power to decide the appointment after consultation with parliament but it risks being held up as MEPs -- men and women -- voiced their displeasure.
"We have the greatest respect for Mersch's abilities and authority but we cannot accept that member states have not put forward any women candidates," said the male head of the Socialists in parliament, Hannes Swoboda.
Swoboda noted that EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding had set a target that women should account for 40 percent of top management at listed companies.
"It is just not possible that the ECB board is only men," he added.
Last week, a draft European Commission commission directive called for women, a rarity at the corporate high table and outnumbered there roughly seven to one by men, to play a much bigger role.
Reding last year challenged companies for a commitment by March 2012 that women would have 30 percent of board seats by 2015 and 40 percent by 2020.
The draft directive noted that the current "under-utilisation of highly qualified women's skills constitutes for the EU a loss of economic growth potential.
"The business case for more gender diversity on boards is widely recognised among stakeholders," it added.
Rachida Dati of the French PPE conservative group said Tuesday she was shocked there were no women put forward and called on MEPs to "refuse any hearing, block any nomination so as to protest against this backward step."
If Mersch were to get the job, it would mean there would not be another opportunity to appoint a new face to the ECB board until May 2018, unless a member resigned or died, Dati said.
"We just cannot accept that," she added.
"Juncker appears not to have heard about the changes in our society," said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, head of the Greens.
The ECB's executive board has six members responsible for implementing policy and managing the central bank day to day.
Together with the 17 eurozone central bank governors, also all men, they make up the ECB governing council, which sets monetary policy.
The last woman on the ECB board was Austria's Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell between 1998 and 2011 who was replaced by Peter Praet of Belgium in preference to Slovakia's Elena Kohutikova.
"This closed door for women ... is out of date, macho and totally unacceptable. Nothing justifies it," the French centrist MEP Sylvie Goulard said.
"In the quiet, sheltered world of the central bankers, those are not the sort of things which get said but Parliament plays its role when it highlights what is not acceptable," Goulard added.