According to the family minister, Germany's supply of daycare or pre-kindergarten places falls 130,000 spots short of demand. Parents unable to find a spot will soon be able to sue.
The German cabinet on Wednesday said it planned to support a 10-point plan submitted by a minister who said Germany was missing 130,000 daycare places for children younger than three years of age.
Family Minister Kristina Schröder said that roughly 600,000 places were currently available, saying that 2012 had to become the year of prekindergarten expansion.
"Parents have put faith in this. We cannot disappoint them," Schröder, a young high-flyer in Merkel's Christian Democrats, said. As of August 1, 2013, parents will have the legal right to a state-subsidized daycare place for their young children. This has prompted concerns of a string of lawsuits, but Schröder also said that the incoming legislation should not be changed.
Among other methods to increase the expansion, the government plans to offer low-interest loans to local authorities to help them boost prekindergarten provision - with a 350-million-euro ($435-million) fund due to be set aside for this purpose.
A federal project to help cover personnel costs is also envisaged, potentially drawing 10 million euros from the European Social Fund and family ministry's budget.
The ticking clock
The German Red Cross said on Wednesday that a lack of educators and qualified staff was one of the biggest problems facing the expansion plans.
"Many of our daycare centers have to send parents away due to a lack of spaces. We calculate that demand is liable to increase in the near future," president of the Red Cross Rudolf Seiters said. "For families that often definitively means that at least one parent cannot take up an offered job. This concerns us. That's why we're urgently appealing to the federal, regional and municipal governments to keep to the expansion targets."
The German Red Cross has boosted the number of daycare spots it offers by 13 percent between 2007 and 2011 and plans to go further, Seiters also said.
Family Minister Schröder submitted the draft law on Tuesday, and it's due to be rubber-stamped by the Cabinet next month.
Opposition Social Democrat party leader Sigmar Gabriel has said the coalition's plans don't go far enough and has called for a "daycare summit" to discuss the matter, arguing that the government's plan to give extra money to parents who stay at home by choice was counterproductive.
Gabriel told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that the deal was designed to "fob off young parents with a cheaper alternative." He also said that in the process "2 billion euros will be pulverized, with which we could have provided 200,000 daycare places."
Some politicians from areas where childcare is particularly sought after or lacking have already suggested that the 2013 legal right to daycare for all children is a law that might have to be suspended or altered to avoid legal problems.
msh/ccp (dapd, dpa)