(Mar. 1, 2010) Under a 1992 European Union directive, pregnant women are entitled to a minimum of 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, and employers are required to pay them at no less than the rate for sick leave. On February 23, 2010, Members of the European Parliament's women's rights committee endorsed a proposal to extend maternity leave from 14 weeks to 20 weeks. Fathers would receive two weeks of paid leave. Currently, paternal leave may be either paid or unpaid, depending on national law.
The European Parliament's endorsement of the above proposal – which is more generous than the European Commission's initial proposal of July 2009 of only four additional weeks of leave – has already created controversy. A number of European Union Members, including the United Kingdom, are against the timing of the proposal, because many Members are experiencing financial crises and the measure is expected to especially adversely affect small businesses. On the other hand, the Swedish chair of the women's rights committee was dissatisfied with the wording of the proposal and claimed that the language should be more inclusive and should provide not only for the mother's right to stay home after the birth of a child, but also the father's. (Honor Mahony, MEPS Propose Longer Maternity Leave, EU OBSERVER, Feb. 24, 2010, available at http://euobserver.com/9/29539/?rk=1.)