Bryssel 24 maj 2011
Birgitta Ohlsson, EU-minister
The seminar Childcare - Release the potential!
I would like start of by expressing my sincere gratitude to Almega, the employer and trade organization for the Swedish service sector, and the Swedish Permanent Representation in Brussels for having organized this important event and for their excellent preparations.
It is a great pleasure for me being here today as the Swedish Minister for European Union Affairs, but also as a determined feminist and as a dedicated mother.
Without the Swedish model with a professional daycare system with high quality, focus on education and care you can rely on, I would not myself be part of the "Swedish Gender Equality Wonder". A phenomena that took off for my mothers generation - women born in the 1940's, storming into the universities, educating themselves and placing Sweden as a worldwide champion in the league of Gender Equality. More countries should however aspire for better positions in that league.
My point is that Sweden would never have reached this position of belonging to the champions in number of elected women in the Parliament, the high female representation in the labour market and universities without the professional daycare system subsidized via the welfare state but made available via a number of performers.
But providing great daycare is not only a matter of gender equality, it is a matter of economy and the future of the European Union as a whole.
The American feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem wrote in The New York Times, 26 August 1971: "Most American children suffer too much mother and too little father." Though the year is 2011, in the eyes of many European politicians parenthood remains synonymous with motherhood.
I always say as a minister responsible for European Union Affairs: EU can not afford to have the world's best educated housewives. Today millions of women in the EU cannot work at all or as much as they would like, because they are forced to take responsibility for the home and their children.
European women are well-educated; more women than men are studying. Women study nearly 60 percent of all university degrees in Europe.
But only 60 percent of the Union's women of working age have a job. In some countries the figure is lower than 50 percent.
To meet the objectives of the EU's new strategy for smart and sustainable growth - Europe 2020 - female employment opportunities must have increased considerably by 2020.
I will now argue how major expansion of good quality childcare in Europe could boost the EU's economy, trigger growth and make the EU more equal.
More EU governments must recognize that gender inequality has an economic price, for their own country but also for the Union.
EU's GDP could increase by more than a forth, 27 percent, if women worked as much as men in Europe according to a research report from Umeå University in Sweden.
Many women in the EU now choose either not to have children and to focus on their careers instead - wake up and smell the coffee leaders in south - or to give up their careers entirely when their children are born.
With ever more elderly men and women, the Union's population risks turning into Jurassic Park. The working age population will shrink by one million in the coming five years.
Access to affordable and qualitative childcare is crucial if more people are to be able to combine their family and professional lives.
In my view, we should not legislate on childcare at the EU level, but more EU countries do need to recognize the connection between childcare and economic growth.
Getting more women into the workplace is a pressing challenge for the EU. The untapped potential for higher GDP could be put to good use: more people working and paying tax would bolster the financing of our common welfare in a competitive global climate.
As I already said, but it's worth to repeat, an average of just six out of ten women in the EU are in gainful employment, dropping as low as four out of ten in certain countries.
Men earn almost 20 percent more than women, and four times more women than men work part-time.
Women in the EU also earn less than men, meaning that women's economic freedom is more limited. Ever since the 1700s, power over one's own wallet has been a cornerstone of liberal feminism. Cash is queen.
Women should not have to depend on their partners for an income.
Sweden is a pioneer when it comes to feminist issues, with radical family policies in an international perspective.
The Swedish child care model can been seen as an example in this respect that can be exported to other countries.
Already in the EU's Lisbon Strategy, childcare was seen as a key factor in achieving the goals of increasing employment in Europe.
Increased equality is one of the EU's great economical challenges.
In the new EU strategy for smart and sustainable growth (EU 2020), the employment target has been strengthened; 75 percent of the working age population should be employed by 2020 (compared to the current level of 69% in EU today).
To achieve this goal the possibility for women's participation in the European labour force must increase significantly.
The European Commission has pointed to the availability of child care as crucial to achieve this goal.
Today, insufficient provision of child care in many European countries makes it almost impossible for both parents to make a professional career.
This has held back women in particular, who according to traditional patterns have the primary responsibility for the care of children.
Statistics clearly show how barriers to women's participation in employment is a barrier to growth and prosperity.
Sweden has often been seen as a frontrunner and a successful example in providing good access to affordable and qualitative child care.
For many years, we have developed a Swedish model of child care that has all the conditions of being an export success.
Affordability for parents, wide availability and good quality are cornerstones in the Swedish child care model. Several factors have contributed to this, and the base is a large public sector, funded through taxes.
We have also had a diversity of providers. The players are not just local, but also an increasing number of private companies have engaged in child care.
This has contributed to a high degree of customer-driven and distinct market approach. New solutions and exciting ideas have been developed in accordance with customer requirements.
Competition between companies and public stakeholders have enhanced innovation and improved the quality of preschools. It is thankfully long since child care consisted of pure babysitting.
Today preschools profile themselves through ambitious programs with different educational emphasis. The focus is on dynamic learning and personal development.
Aside from icons such as Volvo, Ericsson and ABB, new company names for example Pysslingen, Vittra and Helianthus have now become stands for Swedish quality in the world.
There is every reason that we highlight those successful examples and map out the market opportunities for childcare, both within and outside the EU.
The equality between the sexes is a commonly held value in the EU.
The EU has official goals stating that women and men should have the same opportunities when it comes to combining work life, private life, and family life.
It is also a necessary prerequisite if we are to achieve the Union's goals for growth, employment and social cohesion.
Swedish child care on export could contribute to boost the EU economy and make the EU more equal.