Date: 12-09-2022

ISSA contributes to European Commission’s proposal on revision of the Barcelona Targets

In conjunction with the launch of the new European Care Strategy on September 7, 2022, the European Commission delivered a Proposal for a COUNCIL RECOMMENDATION on the Revision of the Barcelona Targets on early childhood education and care. This represents an important milestone for the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) policy and systems in European countries. 

What are the Barcelona Targets? 

The Barcelona targets were set by the European Council in 2002 with the aim of increasing female participation in the labor-market through enhanced provision of high quality ECEC, as women are still expected to, and remain, the greatest providers of unpaid care work. While the original targets (a 90% participation rate in ECEC for children from age 3 up to mandatory school age, and a participation rate of 33% for children under 3 years old1) were largely met at EU level, some Member States are significantly lagging behind. These differences particularly affect children from lower income households.2 

New Barcelona targets for ECEC provision  

In addition to closing the gender employment gap through increased female labour-market participation, the proposed revision to the Barcelona targets aims to enhance the social and cognitive development of children — in particular those in vulnerable situations or from disadvantaged backgrounds. In order to achieve this, the proposal document sets out the following new Barcelona targets for ECEC provision for children under 3 years of age and for 3-6 years old: 

Member States should encourage female labour-market participation by providing high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) services in line with national patterns of provision, ensuring that by 2030:  

  1. At least 50% of children below the age of 3 participate in ECEC; and  
  1. At least 96% of children between the age of 3 and the starting age for compulsory primary education participate in ECEC. 

Recommendations to assist in reaching the targets  

The Proposal also contains specific recommendations to help Member States reaching the new targets. These include: affordability, accessibility, and quality of ECEC — which influence parents’ decision to make use of such services; time commitment of ECEC activities should be sufficient to allow parents to meaningfully engage with paid work; inclusion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, children with disabilities or with special needs; high quality and equitable territorial distribution; out of school care; awareness of rights; staff working conditions and skills; governance and data collection. Implementation, monitoring and evaluation. 

ISSA’s contribution 

ISSA is proud to have contributed to this important policy initiative through suggestions put forward by the First Years First Priorities Campaign, which ISSA co-leads with Eurochild. These suggestions were shared with the European Commission during the consultation period and have largely been addressed and implemented in the text of the proposal. These suggestions included:  

  • Increased attention to providing access to the most vulnerable groups 
  • Increased quality provision while increasing working access 
  • Increased professionalization and ongoing professional support for ECEC staff (especially for children under 3 years old) 
  • Better working conditions for ECEC staff 


Photo: (c) UNICEF - John McConnico.png