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Page last updated at 08:28 GMT, Tuesday, 26 May 2009 09:28 UK
EU call for better maternity pay

By Dave Howard
Newsbeat politics reporter

You've probably had papers in the post telling you about elections coming up for Euro MPs. Trouble is, even MEPs themselves admit most of them aren't exactly household names. Most people don't know what they do or what we should vote for. But they make decisions that affect all our lives and the elections on 4 June are your only chance for five years to have a say over who gets to make those decisions.


New parents-to-be Katherine and Steve Dennis find out how the European elections will affect them

Katherine and Steve Dennis have got a big new reason to find out what goes on in Brussels.

They're about to have a baby. Katherine says she's "excited and a bit apprehensive".

Steve laughs, and adds: "I'm mostly terrified!" He says the tough bit is not knowing how soon the baby's going to make an appearance.

He says: "I'm expecting a phone call any minute when I'm at work and I'm expecting to get woken up any minute when I'm asleep in bed."

Katherine's a teaching assistant. She works with school children who are blind or who have sight problems.

But, like most working mums, she's taking maternity leave, time off work to look after the baby.

One of the hot topics at the European Parliament lately has been how much leave and pay new working mums like Katherine should be entitled to.

She says she's fairly happy with the length of time off she gets but she's worried about having less money.

She says: "Financially I suppose the coming months will be a little bit harder."

Work/life balance

She still gets some of her wages while she's on maternity leave, 90% for the first six weeks. Then it's cut by half. After nine months, she gets no money at all from her employer.

Now politicians in Brussels are calling for longer and better paid time off for new mums.

One proposal is they get more than four months paid leave with the first month and a half at full pay.

Groups on the left in Europe think it would be better for families and it would improve work/life balance.

Many on the right though think it would cost too much and damage businesses.

The UK government isn't keen on some of the changes either but apart from arguing their case, they have little power over decisions made in Brussels.

Once a new law's made there, governments in all the member states, including the UK, have a short time to introduce the law at a national level.

So, thanks to Brussels, and whether British MPs or businesses like it or not, new mums like Katherine could get more generous maternity pay within a few years.

MEP Seats

  Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
EPP 33.4 -1.4 264 -18
Socialists 23.2 -4.1 183 -26
Liberal 11.0 +1.6 84 +5
Green 7.4 +1.3 50 +9
Left 5.3 -0.6 34 -2
UEN 3.4 +1.6 28 +2
Ind/Dem 2.7 -1.8 21 -15
No Group 13.6 +3.4 72 +3.4
0 of 27 countries declared.

UK Total MEP Seats

Party Votes MEPs
% +/- % Total +/-
CON 27.7 1.0 *26 1
UKIP 16.5 0.3 13 1
LAB 15.7 -6.9 13 -5
LD 13.7 -1.2 11 1
GRN 8.6 2.4 2 0
BNP 6.2 1.3 2 2
SNP 2.1 0.7 2 0
PC 0.8 -0.1 1 0
OTH 8.5 2.4 0 0
SF 1 0
DUP 1 0
72 of 72 seats declared. Vote share figures exclude Northern Ireland as it has a separate electoral system to the rest of the UK
* Includes UCUNF MEP elected in Northern Ireland
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