By politics.co.uk staff
MEPs' plans to extend minimum maternity leave at full pay to 20 weeks have been defeated by ministers.
Intense lobbying by employment minister Ed Davey among his European colleagues appears to have paid off for the government, which vigorously opposed the proposals.
Initial plans from the European Commission to extend paid maternity leave from 14 weeks to 18 were pushed to be extended further to 20 weeks at full pay by the European parliament.
Britain argued that the plans would be too costly and socially regressive, since mothers on higher incomes would benefit more proportionally than those from poorer backgrounds.
That argument has been echoed by France and Germany, with enough votes secured to scupper the proposals.
Mr Davey said ahead of his round of diplomacy yesterday: "Minimum standards across Europe are important, but countries also need the flexibility to put in place arrangements that work for them in their own individual circumstances.
"We are absolutely committed to creating the best possible family-friendly environment in the UK, but the solutions on the table today are not the best way to help."
It was also claimed that the plans would cost the taxpayer an extra £2 billion pounds and create a less attractive environment for business.
Edward Wanambwa of Russell-Cooke solicitors said: "Had these proposals been approved and introduced in the UK, clearly they would have affected some employers more than others.
Supporters of the proposals have dismissed the criticism that the proposals were "socially regressive", pointing out that all mothers would receive more than the current statutory rate of £124.88.
But Mr Wanambwa added: "Many employers in the UK already offer their employees considerably more than the minimum floor of statutory maternity and paternity pay."
The defeat means new EU laws on the matter will not be decided on before next year.
In the UK women are entitled to 12 months maternity leave, but the 90% of pay they receive for the first six weeks then falls to the statutory rate.