German and French childcare policies under the impact of the European Union

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

24 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Pressures towards convergence

3. Childcare policies in Germany and France
3.1 Historical and ideological backgrounds
3.2 Service and monetary provisions and parental leave arrangements

4. EU childcare policies
4.1 EU childcare policies up to 1998
4.2 OMC in European childcare policies 1998-2005

5. Conclusion: Convergence or Divergence?

1. Introduction

In most European societies, it is women who are considered responsible for raising children and caring for dependent family members, whereas men’s task is to cater for the family financially. On the one hand, this prevents mothers from participating actively in the labour market, while on the other hand, it gives fathers little time to spend with their children. Traditionally, national welfare states have regulated this kind of inequality in accordance with society’s norms and values, by providing a framework of services (e.g. public childcare facilities), monetary transfers (child-rearing benefits), and leave regulations (parental leave), thus creating incentives and disincentives for mothers (and fathers) to work and/or to look after the children at home. National arrangements vary considerably across the different states, whether they be geographically and culturally close or remote, whether they belong to the same or to a different welfare state regime. A good example for such differences are child-care arrangements in Germany and France. Although neighbours and both conservative-corporatist welfare states, they have developed very different approaches in dealing with the problem of labour market participation of women with children.

In the past 20 years, welfare states, and with them family policies, have faced considerable pressures of different types. External as well as internal changes have played a role here. Macroeconomic changes have brought about a need for states to increase their competitiveness in order to combat rising unemployment, cutting down or restructuring social welfare. Moreover, attitudes towards childcare have changed, with women increasingly wanting to take up work. Another type of pressure arose with European integration. With the EU, a new player has emerged to interfere with the design of family policies in the Member States, especially after recognising that competition and market integration alone do not automatically lead to social justice.

The central question of this paper is to what extend one can say that a combination of these pressures, and especially the ones created by EU policies, are likely to cause convergence of German and French childcare policies. The term childcare policies in this paper refers to the provision of services and monetary benefits as well as to parental leave arrangements for children before reaching the compulsory school age. But some references to tax regulations for families and care facilities for school children will be included as well. In order to find a solution to the above question, possible pressures towards convergence are examined in section 2. Section 3 presents and analyses current childcare arrangements in Germany and France. Section 4 turns to EU childcare policies and policy instruments before and after the introduction of the European Employment Strategy, focusing on common Guidelines, National Action Plans and the recommendations given to France and Germany and their influence on national policies. Section 5 tries to draw a conclusion on whether convergence or divergence will take place.

2. Pressures towards convergence

According to the literature, there are different types of pressures on the welfare state that might lead towards convergence. Randall identifies four that can specifically be related to changes in childcare policies[1]. First of all, she observes that on the one hand, there is an increasing participation of women in the labour market, because traditional role patterns – the husband working, the wife staying at home - are no longer acceptable to a lot of women. Since men are not necessarily willing to stay at home and care for their children, even if they have the possibility to do so, it is important that there are facilities where the children are looked after. Although different countries obviously have different starting points with regard to female participation in the labour market, there has been a trend in the all EU countries towards an increase of employment rates[2].

She warns, however, that the actual implications of this trend for childcare provision cannot simply be deduced. It is noticeable that rates of mothers’ employment have been highest where public childcare provision has been most generous, but to the extent that there is a causal association between these observations it is not obvious in which direction.[3]

Also, she points out that one has to differentiate between a rise in participation in full-time and part-time work. On the other hand, and at the same time as the rise in female employment rates, she observes an increase of single parent households in EU Member States. If these parents want to take up work in order to be able to cater for themselves and their children, they are dependent on accessible and affordable childcare facilities. Both developments thus at least lead to an increased demand for childcare.

Second, she refers to the increased influence of feminist thought and activism, which has been “one of the important factors underlying the development of EU childcare policy”, shaping public attitude in the different Member States through participation in and influence on trade unions, political parties and sections of the media.

The third factor she mentions are shifting welfare and labour market priorities. These arise from changes related to globalisation, dysfunctions of the labour market, and increased influence of market-orientated ideology. Such changes might cause states to cut back on social welfare or restructure patterns of expenditure and distribution in order to increase their competitiveness and flexibility. This might lead to retrenchment in the area of childcare provision as this is more costly than providing monetary support for parents.

Fourth in her listing of possible pressures towards convergence in childcare policies, are obligations and influences that arise from EU membership. Those can be further grouped into direct influences, indirect positive influences, and direct negative influences, according to Leibfried and Pierson. Firstly, direct pressures of integration refer to direct and active initiatives of the EU in order to develop uniform social standards on EU-level. Direct EU action on social and especially childcare policies will be considered in detail in the next sections. Secondly, there are direct negative pressures. These are linked to the market building process, especially labour market mobility and the freedom to provide services and the related homogenisation of national social policies. The third group are indirect pressures of integration, which are a consequence of EU economic policies. Member States cede some fiscal and monetary powers to the EU, so that they have a smaller range of macroeconomic policy choices in order to react to crises of the welfare states[4]. In the case of childcare policies, this might lead to cutbacks since Member States try to increase their competitiveness by cutting down on taxes on labour, leading to social dumping. Ferrera mentions another way of possible influence – the diffusion of concepts and ideas.[5]

Changes in national childcare policy are caused by different combinations of these pressures. One can never be sure which of these influences might have been decisive for the creation of a new policy, however, it will be shown that they have different effects in different Member States, due to unique historical and institutional structures in each state. They will lead to convergence in some aspects, but not in others.

3. Childcare policies in Germany and France

3.1 Historical and ideological backgrounds

This chapter will give some information about the historical and ideological backgrounds of family policy in France and Germany in order to understand the differences between the two countries.

The German Grundgesetz resumes very well the basic concept of German social policies, the family being the central unit of the state and deserving its protection. Raising children is the duty primarily of the family, the state only intervenes in cases where the family alone cannot fulfil its duties. This is nothing but subsidiarity. According to Ostner, these ideas are reflected quite well by the most common German childcare institution, the Kindergarten: “Child care facilities for children older than three were not designed to assist mothers’ employment, but to support parents’ effort to educate the children […].” (Ostner 1998, p. 111). This statement is confirmed by the practical arrangements of the Kindergärten, e.g. their opening hours which make part-time work the only real option for mothers. Facilities for under three-year-olds are hardly available at all. Financial as well as cultural issues seem to play an important role here, the incentives to take parental leave during the first years being greater than the incentives to send children to Krippen. Also, parents are still hesitating to give children away at a lower age than three. Even today, a study is published on the web page of the Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, (BMFSFJ), confirming that very young children being minded by non-family members, especially outside their homes, are not more likely to suffer from disadvantages in their development than children who spend their first three years with their families.

The relatively limited offer of public childcare facilities can be understood as a legacy of the catholic-conservative tradition in Germany and the image of the woman that the post-war Christian-democratic governments promoted in the Federal Republic. In contrast to this, the former GDR- Länder reach a much higher coverage and variety of facilities since the socialist government promoted the ideal of the working woman. Today, however, these advantages are threatened by growing budget deficits. It is only in the late 1990s and the early 21stcentrury some movement towards public childcare can be observed although tax and benefits system still favour a strong-male breadwinner model.

Contrary to the German principle of subsidiarity, in France the government is perceived as an important actor when it comes to family policies. Strong state intervention is considered normal and is not questioned by citizens[6]. From the 19th century onwards, two opposed ideological tendencies influenced the development of family policies: familialism, which tried to discourage mothers from working and to reinforce the idea of the traditional single-earner family on the one hand, and, on the other hand, solidarism, the republican and secular social policies of the 3rd republic. The social security of all citizens is a central argument of this theory, paid work is considered a fundamental factor in integrating individuals into society.

Until the second world war, social policies were dominated by familialism, but already in the 30s, the idea of a two-earner family had begun make its way into family policy. By the 1960s, a fundamental shift in the opinions about public childcare had taken place- parents were no longer the only ones responsible for the education of their children, instead, responsibility was split between them and public institutions. Familialism obliges the state to protect families - women’s participation in the labour market is not to have a negative influence on birth-rates. But as paid work is of utmost significance for citizens’ identity and the integration into society, the state also has to provide for the necessary facilities to allow women to work. At the same time, according to Veil, the wide-spread availability of public childcare institutions reflects the republican ideal of equality of opportunities, independent from the children’s social background[7].

In the 1990s however, there was a trend towards what Mahon calls neo-familiarism[8], encouraging “a massive take up of private family-based childcare arrangements”[9]. One could say that female labour force participation fell victim to the general unemployment crisis. Nevertheless, there are still a lot more public provisions than in Germany.

3.2 Service and monetary provisions and parental leave arrangements

As can be deduced from the previous paragraphs, service provision in Germany and France is handled very differently. Germany prefers to rely on monetary provision rather than on services in order to leave parents with the free choice to either care for their children themselves or to send them to public childcare facilities, whereas France has a very extensive system of public childcare.

The main German childcare institution for children aged three to six is the Kindergarten. This institution is largely run by voluntary sector providers. Subject to the BMFSFJ, Kindergärten are, however, mostly financed by municipalities and districts, which in turn receive a compensation from the Länder. Parents pay an income-related contribution which covers about 20% of the total costs. Parents who receive social assistance are freed of these contributions. Public provision of childcare facilities is effectively complemented by company initiatives. There have been company-run day care facilities ever since the 19th century. But companies which want to hold on to highly qualified female employees also pursue other strategies of providing childcare, e.g. “buying” places in public facilities or babysitter- agencies.[10] In total, 89% of all children attended a Kindergarten or similar in 2004[11], which, at first sight, seems an acceptable coverage rate. On paper, every child has been entitled to a place in such a public childcare facility since 1996. Evers/Lewis/Riedel label the corresponding amendment to the Sozialgesetzbuch (SGB)VIII a by-product of re-unification, being part of the compromise between the old and the new Länder. However, when the act was passed, no additional funds were made available, so that implementation was delayed until 1999. In total, little was gained by this act. Provision of childcare facilities grew in the West but further declined in the East due to budget problems[12]. Furthermore, the entitlement to a Kindergarten place does not include an entitlement to a full-time place. Moreover, Kindergärten are closed during school holidays, the practical implication of this being that one parent can only work part-time, if at all. As a result, two in three working women are in part-time jobs[13], a consequence of this being that many women in Germany – in particular in West Germany – only contribute a small share to the household income and still depend economically on their husbands or male partners. Another problem is connected with the opening hours of the Kindergärten. which “have in no way kept pace with the flexibilisation of working times”[14]. This is especially a problem for single parents, many of whom are unable to take up an employment and have to live from social assistance[15]. The provision of public childcare places for children under three is even more problematic. They are not entitled to a place, and effective coverage in West Germany was only at about 3% in 2004. Adding the new Länder slightly improves the picture, raising the coverage rate by about 4%[16].


[1] Randall (2000), pp. 346

[2] Statistical data on this issue can be found on the Eurostat webpage, URL:,39140985&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&screen=detailref&language=en&product=STRIND_EMPLOI&root=STRIND_EMPLOI/emploi/em012 [18.01.06]

[3] ibid, p. 352

[4] Leibfried/Pierson (2000), pp. 269

[5] Ferrera M. (1996), as quoted by Bertozzi/Bonoli (2002), p. 4

[6] Veil (2003), p.16

[7] Veil (2003), p. 18

[8] Mahon (2001), pp 1

[9] Martin et al. ; p. 174

[10] Veil (2003), p. 20

[11] Plantenga (2004c)

[12] Evers/Lewis/Riedel (2005): p. 198

[13] Klammer (2004): p. 4

[14] ibid., p. 5

[15] ibid, p. 4

[16] Plantenga (2004c)

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German and French childcare policies under the impact of the European Union
University of Twente
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German, French, European, Union
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Nora Anton (Author), 2006, German and French childcare policies under the impact of the European Union, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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