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21st May 2022

Commission withdraws maternity leave bill

  • The European Commission has scrapped plans to re-write its maternity leave rules (Photo: Malingering)

The EU executive has scrapped plans to overhaul the bloc’s twenty-yearold law on maternity leave, after nearly seven years of institutional deadlock between MEPs and ministers.

In a statement on Wednesday (1 July), the European Commission said that with “no prospect of progress”, the bill would now been consigned to the scrapheap with 73 other draft laws on which no agreement was reached by the end of the last 2009-14 legislature.

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Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans threatened to withdraw the proposal last summer but gave MEPs and ministers an extra six months to reach agreement last December.

The bill, backed by the parliament in 2010, has been stuck at the EU member state level ever since and was quickly earmarked for the legislative graveyard as part of the Commission’s 'Refit' initiative aimed at streamlining the EU’s regulatory burden on businesses.

Originally tabled by the Barroso Commission in 2008, the revised directive sought to extend paid maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks, six weeks of which would have been at full pay and the remaining 12 weeks at 85 percent pay. The parliament proposed to extend minimum maternity leave in the EU to 20 weeks with full pay, a position dismissed by a handful of governments - UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, Malta, Latvia, and Ireland - who formed a blocking minority.

The Parliament had also called for six weeks of compulsory leave after childbirth, and at least two weeks of paid paternity leave for fathers.

While a number of governments argued that the proposed increase would increase the burden on small businesses, others criticised the legal basis of the Commission proposal, which was restricted to women's health rather than as social protection, meaning that paternity leave fell outside its scope, something the parliament wanted to include.

“EU Governments have let down women and their families by their frankly embarrassing failure over seven years,” ETUC General Secretary Bernadette Ségol said in a statement.

The Commission has promised to table a ‘roadmap’ to reform maternity leave provisions in its Work Programme for 2016, in a bid to “make a clear break from the current stalemate”, but the announcement was not met with approval amongst parliamentarians.

Last month, MEPs backed a resolution by a 419 to 97 vote margin vowing to broker a compromise with EU governments and urged the Commission not to scrap the proposal.

“We cannot help mothers by simply throwing away this directive”, said Maria Arena, the Belgian centre-left deputy tasked with leading Parliament’s negotiations on the bill.

“Businesses wanted this framework and would have benefited from having a level playing field,” said Liberal group spokesperson Catherine Bearder, who added that the Commission’s withdrawal “leaves parents and families with outdated legislation”.

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Employment ministers on Monday rejected a proposal set forward by the European Parliament to extend maternity benefits from 14 to 20 weeks of full pay, seen as excessive while governments struggle to cope with budget deficits. Most states were also sceptical of a 18-week maternity leave proposed by the EU commission.

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