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The European Parliament has approved a proposal to give new mothers five months of paid leave - and two weeks to new fathers. Policy on maternity leave currently varies greatly across the 27-member bloc.
New mothers across Europe could get five months off work
Members of the European Parliament on Wednesday approved the proposal to increase the minimum maternity leave in Europe from 14 to 20 weeks, with 390 votes in favor, 192 against and 59 abstentions. The first six weeks of maternity leave would be compulsory.
The Parliament tacked an extra two weeks onto a proposal made by the EU's executive, the European Commission, which had called for new mothers to be granted 18 weeks off.
It also amended the proposal to give new fathers two weeks of paid leave to spend with their newborns.
Wednesday's vote was the first reading, meaning that governments of the EU's 27 member nations will now debate the proposed legislation before the assembly takes a final vote.
Critics speak out
Currently, policy on maternity leave varies widely across the European Union. Bulgaria offers the longest paid leave at 45 weeks. Germany and Malta are meanwhile the only two countries that offer new mothers the current EU minimum of 14 weeks.
Some governments have warned the 20-week fully paid leave will further burden taxpayers. Criticism has also come from business leaders, who say increased maternity leave could endanger gender equality in the workplace.
Author: David Levitz (dpa/AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold