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29/09/2016

Timmermans: Deadlocked maternity leave extension will be ditched

Science & Policymaking

Timmermans: Deadlocked maternity leave extension will be ditched

EU Parliament President Martin Schulz presides over Frans Timmermans' hearing in the Parliament last year.

[Martin Schulz/Flickr]

Deadlocked draft European Union laws to extend maternity leave to 18 weeks will be ditched, but only after the European Commission puts forward replacement rules with more chance of being backed by national governments.

Members of the European Parliament called on the Commission to ensure the new rules would be binding law, and not softer guidelines, communications or recommendations. EU officials said it was too early to say what form the new rules would take, but added that the bill would not be dropped until a new strategy was decided.

Frans Timmermans, the executive’s “Better Regulation” chief, wrote to European Parliament President Martin Schulz and told him there “was a clear lack of support for pursuing the dossier” in the Council of Ministers.

MEPs had offered to drop their demands for compulsory leave at full pay from 20 weeks, their amendment to the Commission’s original proposal, to six. But EU governments argued that the rules would be too prescriptive and too expensive.

Last week Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality V?ra Jourová met EU ministers in a last ditch effort to save the bill. EurActiv understands it was clear that there was no possibility of a compromise deal with member states.

Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said in December that the 2008 Maternity Leave Directive would be withdrawn in six months if the seven year impasse over the legislation was not broken.

>>Read: Circular Economy to be ditched and re-tabled

But, in his letter to Schulz, Timmermans said, “The Commission will not take a final decision on a withdrawal of the 2008 proposal without presenting ideas for a fresh start.”

ALDE Coordinator on the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, Catherine Bearder, said today (23 June) that current EU rules were more than 20 years old and beyond their sell-by date.

“The Commission must come up with a revised legislative proposal, not just hollow words. Or else its ideas for a fresh start risk turning into a rotten ending for families across Europe,” said the British Liberal Democrat MEP.

Most European Union laws are debated by both Council and Parliament before negotiations between the two institutions. Those talks must end in an identical bill being backed by both before it can become law. 80 pending bills, with little hope of becoming law, were earmarked to be dropped in December after a screening exercise led by Timmermans.

Deadlock

On 3 October 2008, the European Commission proposed increasing compulsory maternity leave to 18 weeks, of which six would have to be taken immediately after childbirth. It also recommended that member states pay women their full salary during this leave period (though the Commission would not be able to enforce this).

The Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee backed a report by Portuguese Socialist MEP Edite Estrela to increase minimum compulsory EU maternity leave to 20 weeks.

But the Council of Ministers is so opposed to the plan that the bill never reached the first reading stage, Timmermans told Schulz in the letter.

After a 15 April 2015 meeting, Latvian officials, who hold the rotating six-month presidency of the EU and chair Council negotiations, decided “there was no prospect of an agreement”.

Timmermans praised the lead MEP on the bill Maria Arena, a Belgian socialist, and Parliament negotiators for their willingness to find a “balanced compromise” with the Council.

“We would have warmly welcomed any sign that this might lead to agreement on this important file,” Timmermans said.

“The Commission shares the Parliament’s disappointment on the lack of progress, but it is committed to improving the situation of working parents,” he added in the letter.

>>Read: MEPs’ last attempt to save maternity leave extension

Background

Efforts to agree on minimum rules for paid maternity leave have triggered heated and divisive debates among EU member states.

On 3 October 2008, the European Commission proposed increasing compulsory maternity leave to 18 weeks, of which six would have to be taken immediately after childbirth. It also recommended that member states pay women their full salary during this leave period (though the Commission would not be able to enforce this).

The Womens' Rights Committee backed a report by Portuguese Socialist MEP Edite Estrela to increase minimum compulsory EU maternity leave to 20 weeks.

In June 2009, a coalition of centre-right and liberal MEPs had rejected Estrela's plans in a June vote in Strasbourg.

Member states in the Council of Ministers were so opposed to the bill that it never reached even a first reading.

Most European Union laws are debated by both Council and Parliament before negotiations between the two institutions. Those talks must end in an identical bill being backed by both before it can become law.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, pledged to refocus the EU executive on the bigger political issues of the day and cut regulations seen as unnecessary or hampering business activity.

Juncker nominated his First Vice-President Frans Timmermans in a new role watching over the subsidiarity principle, whereby the EU should only intervene where it can act more effectively than national or local governments.

Timmermans led a screening exercise into pending legislation as part of the "Better Regulation" strategy. He earmarked 80 bills for the axe but gave the Parliament and Council six months to find a breakthrough in their seven year impasse over maternity leave.

Further Reading

Timmermans' letter to Schulz