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An introduction to the European Social Fund+

20 December 2018

Within the next programming period (the European budget 2021-2027), the most suited fund to implement the Social Pillar is the European Social Fund+ (ESF+).

The European Pillar of Social Rights contains a set of 20 principles and rights for the citizens of the European Union and was officially adopted in Gothenburg during the European Summit in November 2017. In spite of the importance for this initiative to be implemented efficiently all over Europe, the Pillar remains largely unknown to the public and the implementation witnesses resistance and uncertainty on financial level.

Within the next programming period (the European budget 2021-2027), the most suited fund to implement the Social Pillar is the European Social Fund+ (ESF+).

The ESF+ is the successor to the current European Social Fund (ESF). The most important features of the Commission’s 30th of May 2018 proposal include:

  • Member States will have to earmark at least 25% of their ESF+ resources for measures tackling social exclusion. In this regard, the European Parliament raised the percentage to 27%.
  • ESF+ focuses on “investing in people” by concentrating resources into three main thematic areas (employment, education, social inclusion) contributing to the overall objective of implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights and building a “more social Europe”.
  • the proposal recognises both the role of the social partners and civil society in the delivery of employment, education and social inclusion policies and measures supported by EU funding. Therefore, the European Commission proposes that each Member State allocates appropriate resources to building the capacity of the social partners and civil society to ensure that they can actively participate in the implementation of ESF+.

As far as the legislative procedure is concerned, the European Parliament appointed in the summer Veronica Lope Fontagné (EPP) as rapporteur on the ESF+. The text is expected to be debated and voted during the January Plenary session of the European Parliament. However, concerns are raised by many regarding the fact that the text will undergo the negotiations with the Council (the Member States) only at the beginning of the next Parliamentary mandate (second half of 2019). To minimise uncertainty and clearly state the importance of the ESF+, the European Parliament decided to hold a vote in plenary session before the beginning of the negotiations with the Council. The Parliament’s position will be somehow crystallised before the Elections in May 2019 and the Council will negotiate on the basis of a stronger and more consolidated text.

From CECOP’s point of view, given that ESF+ puts together a series of separate EU funding instruments (ESF, YEI, FEAD, EU Health Programme, EaSI), the envelope does not go far beyond the sum of the respective budgets of these individual programmes. In order to ensure that adequate funding achieves a truly social Europe, which is supported by political commitments such as the European Pillar of Social Rights, more ambition was necessary. However, the 25% (27% in the Parliament’s text) earmarking for social inclusion under ESF+ is an improvement compared to the 20% under the current ESF regulation. Therefore, this is a welcome step forward.