The gender pay gap is best tackled at EU level, said 47% of the Europeans interviewed for a Eurobarometer poll presented on Wednesday by Women's Rights Committee Chair Mikael Gustafsson (GUE/NGL, SE). However, respondents were almost evenly divided on how best to close the gap: by facilitating access to jobs for all (27%), imposing penalties on firms (26%), or enforcing transparent pay scales (24%).

Mr Gustafsson said: "Virginia Woolf spoke out about the importance for women to have a room of one's own. It is less well known that she also spoke out about the need for women to have money of their own. It was true then - and it is true today. Focusing on economic equality is even more important at a time of crisis."

While  the pay gap between women and men doing the same job with the same qualifications is seen as a serious problem by almost seven in ten  Europeans (69%), respondents were divided on whether incentives or penalties would be more effective in reducing the gap.

The three possible remedies offered,  namely "facilitating access for women and men to any type of employment" (27%), "imposing financial penalties on companies that do not respect gender equality" (26%), or "transparent pay scales in companies" (24%), all scored similar percentages.

When asked at what government level these measures are best taken, 47% of those interviewed said they favoured action at EU level, 38% at national level and 11% at local level.

Unsurprisingly, women saw gender inequalities, and the pay gap in particular, as more of a problem than men did. Here scores for the two groups differed by between 12 and 14 percentage points. In fact, more than three in four women said that the gender pay gap is a serious problem (76%), as against 62% of men. More men (35%), than women (21%), said that it was not a serious problem.

When asked about pay trends, 60% of respondents said they thought gender inequalities had decreased over the past 10 years, whereas 12% thought that there had been no change.

This Eurobarometer poll was commissioned by the European Parliament to mark the 2012 edition of International Women's Day (8 March), and as a contribution to work under way to reduce the pay gap between women and men.