a) The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
Article 14 of the Charter gives everyone the right to education, including the right to free compulsory education. Article 24(1) of the Charter gives children the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their wellbeing.
b) The legislative powers and their limits
Article 153 (2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) empowers the Union to adopt measures to support and complement the activities of the Member States in the fields of combatting social exclusion and the modernisation of social protection systems. The Union is empowered pursuant to Article 165 TFEU to contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging policy cooperation between the Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and implementing their action. Pursuant to Article 156 TFEU, with a view to achieving the objectives of Article 151 TFEU and without prejudice to the other provisions of the Treaties, the Commission is tasked to encourage cooperation between the Member States and facilitate coordination of their action in all social policy fields under Title X of the TFEU. Article 153(4) provides that provisions adopted pursuant to Article 153 TFEU shall not affect the right of Member States to define the fundamental principles of their social security system and must not significantly affect the financial equilibrium thereof.
c) Existing measures
In 2002, the European Council set ‘the Barcelona Targets’(86) to ensure the provision of formal childcare to at least 90% of children in the Union between the age of 3 and the mandatory school age, and at least 33% of children under the age of 3 by 2010. These targets were reaffirmed in the European Pact for Gender Equality 2011-2020.
The 2009 Strategic Framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET2020) set up a number of objectives in education and training, including a benchmark in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC).(87)
Commission Recommendation 2008/867/EC on the active inclusion of people excluded from the labour market(88) refers to the need for access to quality services, including childcare. Council Recommendation of 28 June 2011(89) on policies to reduce early school leaving mentions the provision of high-quality ECEC as a preventive measure to reduce the risk of early school leaving.
Commission Communication(90) and Council conclusions of 2011(91) on Early childhood education and care: providing all our children with the best start for the world of tomorrow, acknowledged that ECEC provides the necessary foundation for lifelong learning, social integration, personal development and future employability.
Commission Recommendation 2013/112/EU on Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage(92) calls on all Member States to step up their investment in children, according to a three-pillar approach, which includes affordable, quality ECEC services and other measures to address child poverty, as part of an integrated child-rights based package of policy measures to improve outcomes for children and break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage.
On 16 June 2016, Council Conclusions on "Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion: An Integrated Approach" encouraged the Member States to address child poverty and promote children's well-being through multi-dimensional and integrated strategies, in accordance with the Commission Recommendation on investing in children.
The European Regional Development Fund supports measures to improve the ECEC infrastructure and the European Social Fund supports the promotion of equal access to good quality early-childhood education and access to high quality and affordable services for children and families. The Erasmus+ programme provides the possibility for strategic partnerships and mobility in order to improve practice and supports cooperation to advance ECEC policies.
(86) Presidency conclusions, Barcelona European Council, 15-16 March 2002, SN 100/1/02 REV 1.
(87) By 2020, at least 95% of children (from 4 to compulsory school age) should participate in early childhood education
(88) Commission Recommendation 2008/867/EC on the active inclusion of people excluded from the labour market, OJ L 307, 18.11.2008, p.11-14.
(89) OJ C 191, 1.7.2011, p.1.
(90) Communication from the Commission, Early Childhood Education and Care: Providing all our children with the best start for the world of tomorrow, COM(2011) 66 final.
(91) OJ C 175, 15.6.2011, p.8.
(92) Commission Recommendation 2013/112/EU Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage OJ L 59, 2.3.2013, p. 5.