10th Dec 2023


It's 2023 and still no parental leave for MEPs

  • In 1979, there were only 31 female MEPs. Today, 40 percent of MEPs are women (Photo: European Union 2023 - Source: EP)
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In 2010, Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli carried her seven-week-old baby to the plenary session. At the time, the European Parliament was voting on proposals to improve women's employment rights. It made headlines in Europe and beyond.

At the time, Ronzulli said the act was not political", but maternal.

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  • Italian former MEP Daniela Aiuto, who carried her baby to votes and debates in plenary back in 2015 (Photo: European Union 2015 - EP)

June 2015. Another Italian MEP, Daniela Aiuto, also carried her baby to votes and debates in plenary.

The image was captured by the institution's audiovisual services, which shared the moment on social media with the message: "The sweetest vote ever".

Like Ronzulli, Aiuto explained that the event was intended to give a voice to mothers who, for example, would be entitled to company childcare or part-time work.

"As a 'privileged' mother I shout out loud," she commented on her social media, "It is possible!"

MEPs can indeed bring their children to work. What they cannot yet do is take maternity or paternity leave, because it is not recognised in the same way as for the citizens they represent.

"I think it's a shame that the European Parliament doesn't lead by example and show how good paternity and maternity leave can be," Green MEP Kira Marie Peter-Hansen told EUobserver.

Maternity or parental leave is neither mentioned in the Election Act nor in the parliament's rules of procedure.

There is the option of excused absence before and/or after giving birth without the MEP being penalised, but at the cost of losing their right to vote in plenary.

"(The current situation] forces women MEPs to choose between exercising their political function and caring for their families," says Spanish socialist MEP Adriana Maldonado in a letter to the parliament president Roberta Metsola, asking for this right to be recognised.

The letter calls for the recognition of this entitlement and the right to vote while being a mother, Maldonado told EUobserver. "I want the chamber to protect you in this absence."

EUobserver contacted the cabinet of the parliament's president, but by the time of publication had not received a response on whether there are any plans to modernise these rules, or respond to the call for a review.

The rules also do not provide for the possibility of sending a temporary substitute to vote in plenary (as is the case in some northern European national parliaments). However, it is possible to send a substitute to committee meetings.

"The Electoral Act would have to be modified to allow for the temporary replacement of MEPs," concludes a legal analysis by the institution's political department.

Although this would be the "best" option for the Green MEP, and the one demanded in 2020 by a group of MEPs led by Samira Rafaela (Renew Europe), Maldonado rules it out in her petition.

"The act is nominative," she says. "The Spanish people elected me as their representative".

There is also no possibility of telephone or online voting, although the parliament has digitalised its systems in response to the coronavirus crisis. This system allowed MEPs to vote and debate remotely without interrupting their work during the pandemic.

In Spain, for example, maternity leave, and work-life balance are recognised and MEPs on leave can vote in plenary via online.

"We are not asking for the impossible," says Maldonado. "During the pandemic it was shown that it is safe, that it can be done and that the institution is ready for it.

MEP Soraya Rodríguez, a member of Renew Europe, agrees with the call for remote voting. "It would be normal to keep it for some specific cases, such as when an MEP becomes a mother or father, and also in other circumstances, such as illness or medical treatment, during which one can maintain a certain activity," she says.

Failure to modernise and adapt the current rules could deter some people from pursuing such a political career. "It would have a much more detrimental side effect for young people and for women," says Eugenia Rodríguez Palop, MEP for The Left.

Rodríguez also points to another effect of this kind of modernisation — that is educational.

"Women's leadership in the public sphere is very positive," she says. "It shows other women and girls that we have the same skills as men to hold positions of responsibility.

In 1979, there were only 31 women MEPs. Today, four out of ten MEPs are female. This is an all-time high, claims the letter.

"We MEPs represent the people, we have to be an example of what we demand from the rest of society," said Maldonado.

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