25th Aug 2019

EU parliament urges 20-week maternity leave

Euro-deputies on Wednesday (20 October) resisted pressure from national capitals and voted in favour of extending maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks in all EU countries. The bill is likely to be watered down in the final version agreed with austerity-driven member states.

"Maternity cannot be regarded as a burden on social security systems, it is an investment in our future," argued Portuguese Socialist MEP Edite Estrela, in charge of drafting the parliament's position.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Member states are not eager to double their payments for newborn babies (Photo: kton25)

Adopted by 390 votes in favour, 192 against and 59 abstentions, the bill aims to raise the minimum legal period for maternity leave from 14 weeks paid at sick leave levels to a fully-paid period of 20 weeks, including two weeks for the father.

This goes beyond the EU Commission's original proposal, which called for an extension to 18 weeks, out of which only the first six would have been fully paid. For the remainder of the leave, the commission only "recommended" granting full pay.

Austerity-driven member states, notably Great Britain, are openly against the bill, which would double the cost of maternity payments at a time when London is announcing overall budget cuts of 25 percent.

Britain currently has the EU's longest maternity leave, at 52 weeks. But only the first six weeks are paid at a 90 percent level, the rest being allocated at a fixed rate for everyone. Other countries, such as Estonia, have already more than 20 fully paid weeks and are not really affected by the bill.

The European Conservatives group in the legislature, echoing the position of the ruling Conservatives in Britain, pointed to "crippling cost for businesses" and called on national governments - who will now have their say on the draft law - to "stand fast in opposing the parliament's position."

"For a parliament that claims to be in favour of women's rights and against discrimination, I fear that we have short-sightedly increased the chances of young women being indirectly discriminated against in an already tough marketplace," British Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis said in a statement.

Small and medium enterprises also reacted negatively to the proposal.

"Unfortunately, today's vote shows once more that many MEPs are out of touch with the business reality," Andrea Benassi from the European craft and small and medium enterprises organisation (UEAPME) said in a statement.

The organisation points to the fact that a mere increase from 14 to 20 weeks will not change much for young mothers, unless childcare facilities and flexible work arrangements are also part of the solution.

"European small employers should not be weighed down with more burdens and costs, and the same is true to a very large extent for national public finances. We hope that the European Council will realise what is at stake, reject the requests made by the Parliament and revert to a more reasonable solution," Mr Benassi added.

EU justice and fundamental rights commissioner Viviane Reding said the EU commission will act as an "honest broker" between member states and parliament, whose proposal she labelled as "very ambitious."

"If we want to move towards gender equality in the work place, we must find the right balance between concrete rights for mothers and the current economic realities facing businesses in the EU," she said.

"I would like to see a balanced text that keeps women in the job market while not putting too much burden on member states' finances, notably in a time when budgets are being cut across Europe."

Commission withdraws maternity leave bill

The EU executive has scrapped plans to overhaul the bloc’s 20-year old law on maternity leave, after nearly seven years of institutional deadlock.

EU parliament backs whistleblower law

MEPs backed an EU law to protect whistleblowers from retaliation in both the public and private sectors. EU states will have two years to transpose the directive.

EU commission to map gender recognition

The European Commission will start looking at how EU states determine genders - as part of an effort to make it easier for people to determine their own identities.

News in Brief

  1. Ocean Viking to disembark in Malta after ordeal
  2. Germany joins France in world outcry on Brazil fires
  3. British people lose faith in Brexit deal
  4. Brexit hardliners want further changes to EU deal
  5. German manufacturers confirm fear of recession
  6. Belgian socialists and liberals scrap over EU post
  7. Fall in EU migration leading to UK skills shortages
  8. Switzerland makes post-Brexit flight preparations


FIFA's schools programme aims to reach 700m children

Football clubs today invest huge sums of money in youth development and court talented young players from an early age. Children are the future – not only where football is concerned, but also for society in general.


A fundamental contradiction in EU drug policy

The knock-on affects from a 'war on drugs' in Europe is creating problems in Albania - and as far afield as Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Spain heading for yet another general election
  2. EU to discuss Brazil beef ban over Amazon fires
  3. 'Our house is burning,' Macron says on Amazon fires
  4. What happens when trafficking survivors get home
  5. EU states and Russia clash on truth of WW2 pact
  6. EU considers new rules on facial recognition
  7. EU to pledge Africa security funds at G7 summit
  8. Letter from the EESC on per diem article

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us