07-03-2023 Published: our working paper on the Recovery and Resilience Facility
Working paper The Recovery and Resilience Facility as marble cake to strengthen European social citizenship? The case of childcare policies
EuSocialCit scholars – Francesco Corti and Tomás Ruiz – published a working paper on the role of the RRF in strengthening early childhood education and care (ECEC) services.
Investing in children is of crucial importance to break the cycle of disadvantage, reduce inequalities and increase female employment. The Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) represents a unique opportunity for EU Member States to expand their offer of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services. Investing in the accessibility, affordability, quality and inclusiveness of ECEC indeed features prominently in the sixth pillar of the RRF. Accordingly, the purpose of this paper is to shed light on the role of the RRF in strengthening childcare policies and – notably – children’s social rights. As a new financial instrument that links funding disbursement to the implementation of policy reforms, the RRF has a direct effect on the goals and contents of social rights, the actual production of legal resources, and the timing and quality of implementation, i.e. output production.
To examine the role of the RRF in strengthening ECEC and specifically social rights, this study focuses on six countries: Belgium (Wallonia), Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain. First, it describes the key interventions included in the National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs), looking at both investments and – where relevant – reforms. It then assesses the relevance, expected effectiveness and coherence of the ECEC measures included in the plans.
Overall, it finds that prima facie some positive news has come from the NRRPs in terms of investment. The RRF is certainly a game changer in Italy, where the inflow of EU financial resources has opened a window of opportunity to finance infrastructural projects that would otherwise have remained on paper. Good news also comes from Spain, which has used the RRF to strengthen its supply of public services and especially to fill territorial asymmetries. Poland and Belgium are positive case studies, having both taken the territorial dimension into account in their allocation of RRF investments. Mixed assessments emerge in the cases of Portugal and Germany, where the increase in public ECEC places is good news and a social investment turn has already been seen, but the lack of territorial attention in the distribution of funds might widen any internal asymmetries that exist.
Moving to reforms, our analysis shows a mixed scenario. Poland is introducing an important reform aimed at reviewing the financing framework and introducing a set of binding minimum education and quality standards for childcare facilities. Spain is adopting measures to support the most disadvantaged children and to guarantee them free access to childcare. It recognises childcare as an educational service, and is introducing structural and procedural quality standards for childcare facilities. Yet, the other countries in the study are not engaging significantly with the structural problems characterising their childcare systems, at least in the framework of the RRF. While we have observed that countries like Italy and Belgium are de facto engaging in a set of important reforms in the framework of other EU initiatives, such as the Child Guarantee, the expected coherence between reforms and investments within the RRF still does not seem to be an assessment criterion concretely considered in the European Commission’s assessment.