The Council's strategy paid off in the end: the European Parliament's seventh legislature is set to come to an end without an agreement on the maternity leave directive. Parliament's first-reading position could consequently lapse after the European elections since new MEPs would not be bound by the positions of their predecessors. This perspective is alarming to Portuguese rapporteur Edite Estrela (S&D) who, against all odds, succeeded in uniting her fellow members on the difficult question of maternity leave. "The position of the Council is disrespectful towards the European Parliament. [...] Maternity should not be seen as a burden on the economy but rather as a service provided to society."

Presently, the minimum duration of maternity leave in the EU is set at 14 weeks by Directive 92/85/EEC. Germany and Malta offer only this minimum, while other countries are much more generous. Portugal, for instance, gives women 24 weeks of leave paid at 83%. Faced with this diversity and on the advice of different specialists, the Commission presented draft legislation in 2008 proposing to raise to 18 weeks the minimum period of fully paid maternity leave (or pay at least equivalent to sickness benefits). More specifically, it proposed 100% remuneration for the first six weeks and "the full salary if possible during the remainder of the leave" (member states retained the right to set a ceiling at the level of sick pay). Parliament, in its...

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