The file has a long history which dates back to 2008 when a proposal was released “as a priority initiative” by the European Commission. However, despite pressure from the European Parliament, social partners and civil society organisations – including CESI* – progress on the dossier was continuously blocked by the Council of Ministers.
This is why the Commission decided to withdraw its proposal and replace it with a new “fresh” initiative in 2016 “to meet the policy objectives of improving the protection of mothers, better reconciling professional and family life and facilitating female participation in the labour market.” CESI very much welcomes that maternity leave is still on the Commission’s agenda and stands ready to consult and provide constructive input.
Nevertheless, for CESI today’s withdrawal is hardly good news. It is a huge missed opportunity for improved gender equality and a better reconciliation of work and family life for women. Kirsten Lühmann, President of CESI’s internal Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Commission (FEMM), said: “The mills of the EU grind slowly. The launch of a new initiative means that real and necessary improvements in working conditions for women are highly improbable in the foreseeable future. Moreover, given the history of the file, a new initiative will unlikely be sufficiently ambitious.”
CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger added: “The withdrawal is also tragic for the EU’s reputation as a partner for progressive social change. When entering his term of office, Commission President Juncker said that he will work for a triple social A rating of the EU. Now, a file that promised a better protection for prospective and young mothers is one of the first dossiers to be abandoned by the new Commission. The people are expecting more from the EU than being an advocate of austerity and competitiveness. Today’s withdrawal is a blow to all those who had hoped that the EU would be able to use the file to bring real improvements to working women. I hope the Commission’s plans for a new initiative will substantiate quickly.”
* CESI channeled its activities through the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), of which it is a member, and also sent own open letters to key Member State ministries to save the file.