The close connection between the quality of provision for young children and professionaliation of the field has long been supported by international research. That the two are inseparable aspects of one picture is beginning to become accepted at European policy level, as evident in recent high level EU policy documents. This article explores the reciprocal relationship between quality and professionalisation, drawing on the findings of the study on ‘competence requirements in early childhood education and care’ (CoRe), jointly conducted by the University of East London and the University of Gent, and funded by the European Commission. Based on a review of literature in several European languages and data from a 15-country survey and seven in-depth case studies, CoRe has identified systemic conditions for a professionalisation of the entire early childhood system, beyond the formal qualification levels of individual practitioners. The article argues for a critical and systemic reconceptualisation of professional practice in a competent system.