Childhood: a great European cause? One can already imagine the Eurosceptics’ scorn for the petty obsessions of Brussels, or the scandalous violation of people’s private lives.
And yet, as Eulalia Rubio explains in this study, this is not simply Brussels’s latest folly. Child poverty, health and welfare; their homes and schools: these issues have been dealt with by various European programmes for years already, as part of a resolutely modern transformation of social policy.
European action in the social field has historically been linked to the single market programme and to labour policy. However, there has been a gradual movement – similar to that at national level – towards action which respond to new social needs, such as exclusion, demographic change and the increasing heterogeneity of family structures. Children are unfortunately the victims of flawed traditional systems of social protection, and of new needs which lack responses. As in many areas, the progress of European integration makes new intervention a possibility where national measures – insofar as they exist – are not sufficient. It is therefore unsurprising that people look to Europe when the issue of children comes up. Yet we are a long way from a satisfactory situation: European action is fragmented, limited in ambition, and often views support to children as simply a means to achieve other aims seen as nobler.
Avoiding the trap of partisan bias, Eulalia Rubio sketches an overview of the subject and discusses the arguments for and against European action in this domain. In conclusion, she suggests that we proceed by practical steps, not only to improve what exists already, but – above all – to clear the path to a genuine European childhood policy: a policy more efficient, more coherent and with fully legitimate foundations.
We come away with the conviction that this policy area is anything but minor, and could even give a helping hand to a European social policy too often condemned to a second class role.