The emerging childcare strategy in European Union law : the struggle between care, gender equality and the market.
Thesis DisciplineEuropean Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis explores the European Union’s (EU) emerging engagement with childcare law and policy. It assesses the extent to which the EU has adopted a childcare strategy which responds to the need of caregivers (who are predominantly but not exclusively women), the requirement of gender equality and the well-being of children, whilst also supporting the EU’s economic aims. The institutions of childcare in EU law are analysed respectively from two broad perspectives: the interrelated and complementary provisions relating to childcare services and the rights of caregivers are considered separately based on their different legal bases. Although the building of an EU childcare strategy designed to set minimum common standards around childcare services appears to be relevant to employment and economic growth, this thesis argues that the EU has made little progress in relation to the adoption of such a coordinated strategy. It acknowledges the difficulties of regulating childcare services at EU level because of the lack of clear competence alongside heavily socio-cultural influences and some resistance from the Member States themselves. It shows that the role of the EU is mainly limited to encouraging Member States to adopt (preferably publicly subsidised) available, affordable and quality out-of-home childcare provisions as well as to provide a forum for information sharing. The thesis then moves on to provide a critical perspective on the Barcelona targets and the subsequent policies which, it is demonstrated, have failed to contribute effectively to gender equality and other EU values. It concludes that the EU’s ability to influence childcare regulation is limited to principle setting. Nonetheless, the thesis does establish that the EU actively addresses the rights of caregivers (especially mothers). The thesis notes how the EU has developed these rights along two broad areas - while rights to work-life reconciliation have mainly contributed to supporting the employment of women in the labour market, the Court of Justice of the EU has tied the concept of care to that of citizenship - and how the development of parents’ rights in these areas signifies the EU’s commitment to supporting childcare and the work of caregivers. However it is also clear that the rights to protect and empower caregivers have been patchy, insufficient and, in some areas, legally uncertain.