The proposal, drafted by the European Commission, would give mothers across the 27-member bloc the right to at least 18 weeks maternity leave, at least six weeks of which would have to be taken out straight after the baby is born.
Swedish mothers currently have a statutory right to 12 weeks’ leave. Fathers are entitled to take the same amount of leave. A further 72 weeks can be split between the parents as they see fit. The current EU proposal would apparently increase the mother’s right to leave, but at the father’s expense.
“They’ve forgotten that fathers exist too,” Sven Otto Littorin, Sweden’s labour market minister, told journalists in Brussels.
“This means that those of us who have more comprehensive and generous parental leave, and who have greater equality, will have to reverse.”
The Commission’s proposal is intended to help working mothers. Many EU countries currently offer much less generous maternity leave than the 18 weeks currently on the table. The proposal also forbids employers from firing or redeploying women who return from maternity leave.
EU labour ministers had an initial discussion of the plans at their meeting on Tuesday.
“Many others also have objections,” said Littorin.
“The Commission doesn’t mean any harm – I just assume that they haven’t thought it through. With a bit of massaging we can probably make this work.”
The EU’s slow decision making process means that the current proposal has a long way to go before being made binding. Sweden, which takes over the rotating EU presidency in June, will be largely responsible for ensuring its progress.