European Care Strategy

In “Promoting our European Way of Life”

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The strategy was announced in the letter of intent accompanying the 2021 State of the Union address of Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen. It should contribute to the implementation the European Pillar of Social Rights. The health crisis caused by the coronavirus brought the work of formal and informal care workers center stage in policy debates related to working conditions, including issues of gender and work-life balance.

Care is in the competence of Member States.

The European Parliament in January 2021 called for a Care Deal for Europe that would take a comprehensive approach towards all care needs and services, as well as set minimum standards and quality guidelines for care throughout the life cycle.

On 5 July 2022, the European Parliament adopted an own initiative resolution entitled Towards a common European action on care (rapporteurs: Sirpa Pietikäinen, EPP, Finland; and Milan Brglez, S&D, Slovenia). Among others, the Parliament called on the Commission and the Member States to put care at the centre of post-pandemic recovery and reiterated the demand for Care Deal for Europe after the Care Strategy, which should include a set of policies, programmes, recommendations and investment at EU level and support the transition towards a gender-transformative care economy that recognizes care as a right and values it as the backbone of our society.

On 7 September 2022, the European Commission put forward three documents:

1. A communication on the European Care Strategy

The Commission sets out a vision for the provision of long-care in Europe, outlines supportive actions at the EU level and calls for action at national level. These include direct technical support under a new flagship project 'Towards person-centred integrated care', the upcoming Horizon Europe partnership ‘Transforming health and care systems' and a strategic partnership with the WHO.

2. A proposal for a Council recommendation on the on access to affordable high-quality long-term care (LTC)

The Commission seeks to improve the situation of formal and informal carers and bring in more care staff, including through legal migration programmes

The focus is on

- the adequacy, availability and quality of LTC. Member states should establish high-quality criteria and standards for all LTC settings.

- fair working conditions for carers. These include the development of attractive wages in the sector through promotion of national social dialogue and collective bargaining.

- addressing skills needs and worker shortages in LTC. Member states should design and improve initial and continuous education and training, build career pathways through reskilling and upskilling, establish pathways to a regular employment status for undeclared LTC workers, explore legal migration pathways for LTC workers and make the LTC profession attractive to both men and women.

For its part, the Commission will continue its support.

3. A proposal for a Council recommendation on the Revision of the Barcelona Targets on early childhood education and care

The Commission proposes to Member States to revise the 2002 targets on early childhood education and care (ECEC) to enhance women’s labour market participation ( ‘the Barcelona Targets’). While the current targets call on Member States to provide childcare to 33% of children under 3 and to 90% of children from age 3 until mandatory school age, the proposed revised targets are more ambitious:50% of children under 3 and 96% of children from age 3 until mandatory school age (this second target has already been agreed within the European Education Area Framework).  

Newly, the focus is on

- the intensity of participation. A sufficient number of hours of ECEC should be provided to allow parents to engage with paid work.

- closing the gap between attendance in ECEC of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion, children with disabilities or with special needs and the overall population of children.

Other elements mentioned are quality of ECEC, its territorial distribution, affordability and accessibility, out of school care, parents' awareness of their rights, staff working conditions and skills, as well as the need to address the gender care gap.

In the European Parliament, the Employment and Social Affairs Committee (EMPL) takes the lead, while up to five other committees may contribute with their opinions. 

On 8 December, EU ministers in the Council adopted the proposed recommendations on early childhood education and care and on affordable high-quality LTC.

While the proposed recommendation on LTC said that "Member States should", in the adopted recommendation, they "are recommended to" take individual measures. The draft also specified that national coordinators should be appointed to monitor and implement the strategy and that Member States should submit national action plans within 12 months. The approved version refers to national co-ordinators or an "appropriate coordination mechanism" and only says that Member States are recommended to communicate to the Commission the set of measures taken or planned to implement it, within 18 months. 

In the recommendation on ECEC, Member States are also only "recommended to" take measures, instead of the proposed "should". The agreed targets for participation in ECEC are

- at least 45% of children below the age of three (specific targets apply to Member States that have yet to reach the 2002 goals).

- at least 96% of children from three to the compulsory primary education.

While the recommendation on intensity of care for children up to the age of three (at least 25 hours per week) stayed, the one for children from three (35 hours) has gone. The part on inclusion has been expanded with support to training programmes for ECEC staff.




Further reading: 

Author: Marketa Pape, Members' Research Service,

As of 20/05/2024.