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26th Feb 2017

Controversial maternity leave bill scrapped

  • The proposed 20-week maternity leave was criticised strongly in some member states (Photo: Wikipedia.org)

A bill to reform 20-year old EU laws on maternity leave is being withdrawn after being stuck at the member state level for too long.

“The commission’s proposal on the maternity leave directive has not been discussed for more than two and half years,” EU commissioner Sim Kallas told deputies in Strasbourg on Tuesday (15 July).

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Kallas said the proposal has been blocked “for too long with no progress at all for almost three years.”

First proposed by the European Commission in 2008, the revised directive wanted to extend and improve paid maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks.

MEPs, for their part, pushed it to 20 weeks and then adopted the reforms in October 2010.

A handful of member states then objected to the parliament’s position in December of the same year, creating an impasse.

Critics said the 20-week leave was too long and would be an undue burden on businesses.

Others said it was too detailed and that issues like breast feeding times and special arrangements for working parents with disabled children would be better decided at the national level.

A last ditch effort at the Council level, representing member states, was made in May 2012 under the Danish EU presidency.

But a blocking minority - formed by the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, Malta, Latvia, and Ireland - meant the presidency's hands were tied.

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding also tried to broker a deal between member states and the parliament but failed.

As a result, the commission listed the bill as one of among others set for burial in a legislative graveyard known as the regulatory fitness and performance programme (Refit).

Another EU source said starting anew could be a good thing because the proposal’s legal basis was too narrow to begin with.

“This dossier needs a fresh start for a more modern directive, notably to help fix the issue of the legal basis,” said the contact.

The proposal’s legal basis was restricted to women's health.

This meant paternity leave fell outside its scope, something the parliament wanted to include in the first place.

The current Italian EU presidency, has said it is willing to look at a new proposal with conditions in place to avoid another “dead end”.

“We can try again, it is worthwhile trying again and we are ready if we start off with a new political point of departure, a new beginning, a fresh beginning,” said Italy's state secretary for EU affairs Sandro Gozi.

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