Lawmakers voted on Tuesday to massively extend full maternity pay to 20 weeks across the European Union and grant paid paternity leave of a fortnight for all.
The vote by a European parliament committee on women's issues faces a first reading before the full parliament in March, when it could also come into conflict with member states, many of whose budgets are hugely overstretched.
Current European legislation, dating from 1992, sets out a minimum of 14 weeks of maternity leave, including two taken compulsorily either just before or after giving birth.
Existing European Commission proposals want to see that extended to 18 weeks, and do not mention paternity leave.
Warn about post-crisis debts
Conservative European deputy Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, the women's committee's vice-chair, said the stance was "well-intentioned" but warned that with post-crisis debts weighing heavily on government budgets already panicked by a pensions timebomb from an ageing population, it would come with a "very heavy price" tag.
She also said it could discourage the recruitment of young women into the workplace.
However, the Greens' Nicole Kiil-Nielsen said that, at a time of low birth rates in Europe, "appropriate maternity leave should be a right for all mothers and not only for those who can afford it." She added of the plans for paid paternity leave that it was "an excellent opportunity for fathers to play an active role in the family bosom." - (Sapa, February 2010)