By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union lacks specific budget tools to ensure its spending advances gender equality and should make more use of data broken down by sex to track and assess progress, auditors said on Wednesday.
The report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) comes in the same month that member states Poland and Hungary blocked use of the phrase "gender equality" at an EU social summit, and amid fears the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated inequality.
"Gender equality is at stake in Europe," said Eva Lindstrom, a Swedish auditor with the EU oversight body, adding that a culture of "gender blindness" meant the bloc was not applying the perspective as it should to all spending.
"This is seen as a sensitive question today," she said when asked about political resistance to carrying out gender analysis across policies, setting gender objectives and using targeted indicators to measure impact.
The ECA said the bloc's executive European Commission has failed to include specific enough tools to promote gender equality through the EU's joint budget worth, some 1.1 trillion euros in 2021-27 and topped up with 750 billion in COVID-19 economic recovery spending.
"It's time for the Commission to start walking the talk," Linde said.
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Data gaps and lack of gender analysis stall efforts to address the problem, the auditors warned.
"Gender-responsive budgeting is not just about funding explicit gender-equality initiatives," the report said.
"It is about understanding the impact of budgetary and policy decisions on gender-equality goals, and using this information to adjust for inequalities by introducing changes to public expenditure and revenue."
The ECA stressed equality was not just a matter of human rights, but also an economic factor.
The European Institute for Gender Equality estimates GDP per capita in the EU would grow by 6-9.5% by 2050 if gender equality improved, with countries including Belgium, Poland, Italy, Portugal and Greece seen benefiting the most.
The gap between female and male employment costs the EU around 2 percent of its total economy and women make on average 14% less than men in the bloc.
The Commission has proposed that EU companies be obliged to report on gender pay gaps but that is not certain to win the necessary approval from all the bloc's capitals.
Brussels also called on companies to promote more women to top positions, though efforts to introduce quotas for European boards have long stalled.
Gender inequality differs widely across the 27 EU countries.
While Sweden uses data broken down by sex for budget analysis, governments in Poland and Hungary, which have repeatedly clashed with their more liberal Western peers over social policies, instead promote what they call traditional family values.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alex Richardson)