Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Women Leading the Opposition: Gender and Rhetoric in the European Parliament

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Abstract:  The European Parliament (EP) is an intriguing arena to study the nexus between gender, speech-making, and leadership performance, as it simultaneously challenges and confirms gender-based hierarchies in legislative contexts. While the EP has a higher level of women’s representation than national parliaments, women’s access to top-level positions nonetheless remains limited. Yet the EP is a special case of a legislature. Lacking a right of initiative, it often acts collectively as an inter-institutional opposition to the EU core institutions. In this article, through a software-assisted analysis of EP debates following the president’s State of the Union Address, we investigate party group leaders’ evaluations of the Commission’s proposals and their charismatic rhetoric from a gender angle. Focusing on the three most recent legislatures (2009–2021), our analysis shows that while collective inter-institutional opposition is present in the EP, women leaders generally show higher levels of rhetorical skillfulness and voice either approval or opposition toward the Commission more emphatically than their male counterparts.

Keywords:  charismatic rhetoric; European Parliament; gender; inter‐institutional opposition; party group leaders; political speeches; women’s leadership performance


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© Henriette Müller, Pamela Pansardi. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.