EU institutions reach agreement on a right to at least 10 days of paternity leave

, by Lucie Fierdehaiche, Translated by Juuso Järviniemi

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

EU institutions reach agreement on a right to at least 10 days of paternity leave

In a press release on 24 January, the European Parliament announced that it had found a consensus on the topic of paternity leave with the Council of Ministers, as the two negotiated on a directive proposed by the Commission. The directive is meant to facilitate combining personal and professional life together. Importantly, the directive seeks to reduce inequalities between men and women, including on access to the labour market but also in terms of leave.

Paternity leave: new rights for fathers

The agreement sets a requirement for all countries of the EU to allow at least ten days’ paternity leave. This is revolutionary for countries such as Germany, Croatia and Slovakia which don’t currently have such a system. For other countries, like France, this new measure brings little change to the present situation. French fathers can already take a paternity leave of 11 to 18 days.

The agreement states that the ten days of paternity leave do not need to be take in one bloc. The days off are remunerated at least at the same level as sick pay (equalling 50% of the daily wage). With these new rights inscribed in a directive, the member states need to reach the objectives but they remain free to choose the means and the form. One should, however, note that for the moment the agreement is provisional.

If this provisional agreement becomes EU law, the transposition should be carefully followed in certain countries, such as Hungary where the role of the woman is still very often associated with domestic tasks. Sarah Halifa-Legrand wrote on the French newspaper L’Obs: ‘Schoolboys daydream about images where the woman is confined to the household, they learn by heart poems and songs celebrating the traditional mother, listen to stories where the wife who doesn’t clean the house until it shines gets punished by the husband.’ It is difficult to imagine that this agreement on paternity leave succeeds at changing mindsets whilst Viktor Orbán’s government sets its course on promoting this vision of the woman.

Paternity leave: A hard-won advancement of a social Europe

The establishment of this leave is to allow for a better balance between personal and professional life, and aims to strengthen gender equality in Europe. The text, proposed by the European Commission in 2017, has a social aim and would allow for a harmonisation of practices between the member states.

Unsurprisingly, and following the pattern of most negotiations that have taken place in the social field, the discussions haven’t progressed unopposed. At the start, France was opposed to the Commission’s directive proposal. In the first version, a remuneration of the days off was planned to be based on sick leave. For certain countries, including France, this would have represented a cost (950 euros a month instead of 396 euros).

On 17 April 2018 at the European Parliament, the French President said, ‘We need to work on the proposal, I approve of it in principle, but it’s a beautiful idea that may become very expensive and in the end get unsustainable. A coordinated blocking effort was then made with countries like Germany and Slovakia. The social democrat MEP Édouard Martin summarised the situation by saying that ‘France coordinated a block by bringing together 14 countries’.

Following this, the term ‘remuneration based on sick pay’ was replaced with the expression “adequate remuneration”. The text was studied anew by the governments and in the end, the first version was kept. Approving the directive has, however, been delayed. In any case, fathers may soon benefit from ten days of paternity leave, remunerated at the level of sick pay. These ten days are a small step towards gender equality and towards a balance between personal and professional life.

While the member states and the European Parliament have reached an agreement on paternity leave, the harmonisation of maternity leave is suspended, as has been the case for several years. Negotiations around maternity leave began in 2008 only to be finished in 2015, with no agreement reached. The European legislation on this subject dates from 1992 and doesn’t reduce the big disparities that persist between the member states concerning both the duration of the maternity leave and the remuneration.

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