The European Social Fund (ESF)
The ESF is a means to create more and better jobs
The European Social Fund (ESF) is one of the EU's Structural Funds, set up to reduce differences in prosperity and living standards across EU Member States and regions, and therefore promoting economic and social cohesion.
The ESF is devoted to promoting employment in the EU. It helps Member States make Europe's workforce and companies better equipped to face new, global challenges. In short:
• Funding is spread across the Member States and regions, in particular those where economic development is less advanced.
• It is a key element of the EU's strategy for Growth and Jobs targeted at improving the lives of EU citizens by giving them better skills and better job prospects.
• Over the period 2007-2013 some €75 billion will be distributed to the EU Member States and regions to achieve its goals.
The ESF in perspective
The Strategy for Growth and Jobs is the main EU strategy for ensuring the prosperity and well-being of Europe and Europeans, today and tomorrow. In this context, the European Employment Strategy brings together the 27 Member States to work at increasing Europe's capacity to create more good jobs and to provide people with the skills to fill them. It guides the ESF which spends European money on achieving these goals.
The ESF in partnership
The ESF strategy and budget is negotiated and decided between the EU Member States, the European Parliament and the Commission. On this basis, seven-year Operational Programmes are planned by Member States together with the European Commission.
These Operational Programmes are then implemented through a wide range of organisations, both in the public and private sector. These organisations include national, regional and local authorities, educational and training institutions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the voluntary sector, as well as social partners, for example trade unions and works councils, industry and professional associations, and individual companies.
How to participate in ESF actions ?
ESF funding is available through the Member States and regions. The ESF does not fund projects directly from Brussels.
Each Member State together with the European Commission agrees on one or more Operational Programmes for ESF funding for the 2007-2013 period, as do those regions that have their own Operational Programmes (not all do). Operational Programmes set the priorities for ESF intervention and their objectives.
The Operational Programmes are implemented through individual projects run by participating organisations (known as `beneficiaries ). A beneficiary designs a project, applies for funding and, if this is granted, implements the project.
Beneficiaries in ESF projects can be of many different types: such as public administrations, NGOs and social partners active in the field of employment and social inclusion.
Potential beneficiaries in ESF actions should contact the ESF Managing Authority in their own Member State or region. To find the relevant ESF contact address in your country, visit the ESF in Member States section.
Participants in ESF projects are people who take part in projects and benefit from them, for example by receiving training in new skills or guidance in how to get a job. Organisations and businesses can also be participants in ESF projects, for example through training courses on new skills for their workforce, or help for management on new working practices.
Fields of activity
- Workers and new skills. As globalisation makes the process of change a way of life, EU workers need to become more adaptable and open to change, so that they can improve their employability. The same applies to enterprises, which also need to be more flexible to adapt to new circumstances. In anticipation of an increasingly globalised world, workers as well as enterprises are facing new challenges and changes in working patterns. To reap the benefits that these developments can offer, workers and companies need to adapt to living with change, to anticipate and proactively manage it.
- Businesses undergoing change. For the 2007-2013 programming period, the ESF is supporting actions aimed at anticipating and managing economic and structural changes to ensure more and better jobs for Europe. As European enterprises learn to adapt to an environment of permanent restructuring, it is important to strike the right balance between flexibility for businesses and security for workers that will help maintain human capital and employability. For this, forward-looking planning of human resources is a core issue. The development of mechanisms for such 'active employment measures' requires partnerships between many actors at national, regional and local levels, as well as at Community level. A major aim is to move away from ‘corporate restructurings’ that include job losses and are essentially a reaction to events, and instead to anticipate such events and circumstances in ways that allow for fluid and smooth change that supports jobs. Creating the conditions for flexibility and security which will support human capital and employment protection depends on several factors: the qualifications of the workforce, including their transferable skills; the internal flexibility of companies, including issues such as multi-skilling and working time arrangements; and external flexibility in the form of company outplacements, for example.
- Education and training. To help meet the objectives of the EU Strategy for Growth and Jobs, European workers must be among the best in the world: well educated and trained, with the skills to meet the demands of the knowledge economy and to take it forward. To achieve this, learning can no longer stop at the school gates; it must become a lifelong process. As new products and services continue to appear, as new technologies and processes are adopted, as industrial sectors and enterprises restructure to become more competitive, and as regional and national economies compete in the global market place; so Europe's workforce must adapt to an environment where change is normal, and new skills are always desirable. Education and training are critical factors in developing the EU's long-term potential for competitiveness, and also for its social cohesion – all citizens should benefit from the more and better jobs on offer. The Union has a comprehensive set of policies and strategies, at European, national and regional levels, to improve the qualifications of the EU workforce. Many of these improve higher education and vocational training systems and build better links between these training providers and industry – to ensure that the skills they teach are those that companies need, today and in the future. The ESF 2007-2013 priority for human capital covers all activities concerning education and training. Not only does it aim at improving the quality and availability of education and training to help people get a job, but it also supports training as a lifelong process to help workers keep their jobs, advance in their jobs, prepare themselves to change jobs, and get back into work if they have lost their jobs.
Women and jobs. Equality between women and men is a fundamental feature of our democratic society. It is an important element of the EU Strategy for Growth and Jobs, and essential for the European Union to sustain its prosperity.
Despite increasing female participation in the labour market and in higher education, differences still remain in the labour market position of men and women. The ESF has already made important contributions to improving the situation of women in the labour market. For example, it has contributed to reducing the gender pay gap, from as high as 40% (in the 1960s) to less than 20% today. Whilst this is good progress, clearly the efforts must continue.
As well as being a matter of social justice, the elimination of gender discrimination is also a matter of economic necessity. Gender equality in employment is a key element in generating strong growth and creating jobs. It is vital to meet the current demographic challenges of an ageing population, shrinking workforce, and falling fertility rates, and it can help to ensure the financial sustainability of social welfare systems.
The importance attached to ensuring gender equality in employment is reflected in the ESF programming for 2007-2013. It comprises two approaches:
• Gender mainstreaming, which incorporates the gender dimension into all ESF priorities;
• Specific actions aimed at getting women into work and sustaining them there.
The gender-mainstreaming approach means that particular attention must be paid to equal opportunities in the programming and implementation of all ESF activities. Where possible, they support the promotion of women in employment and the elimination of pay differentials. Specific actions target women’s employment directly – for example, by concentrating on a particular group such as immigrant women or women entrepreneurs. As well as promoting equal opportunities, the aim of this ESF priority is to support the Lisbon target of raising the average level of women’s participation in the workforce to 60% by 2010.
- Better public services. The strategy and implementation of policies in Member States is the responsibility of a variety of public organisations, such as government ministries, or local authority departments, or specific agencies. To contribute to the quality and effectiveness of these policies and services – and their success – these organisations need modern administrative and management capacities. In the less-developed Member States and regions the public services responsible for the development of employment-related strategies and their implementation may lack the capacities to do so in the right way and cost-effectively. For this reason, in the ESF 2007-2013 programme funding is earmarked for strengthening the institutional and administrative capacity in Convergence regions and Member States receiving Cohesion funding. Typical aspects of administrative and institutional capacity that could need attention might include: the quality of civil servants, who may need better training; the take-up of information technologies, where more use of IT might promote efficiency and information sharing; and the way the organisations interact with the socio-economic environment, that perhaps could benefit from a more ‘partnership’ oriented approach. These are just a few examples. Support is based on a strategic approach where the Member State identifies areas of weakness in national, regional and local administrations and the improvements that would bring the greatest socio-economic benefits. In identifying weaknesses, particular attention is paid to developing mechanisms to improve good policy and programme design; and strengthening the ability of public services to deliver these policies and programmes.
History of the ESF
The European Social Fund, created in 1957, is the European Union’s main financial instrument that helps to implement strategic goals of the employment policy in the EU. The main objective of the ESF is preventing unemployment and combating it, developing human resources and integration into the labour market, reducing social exclusion and promoting a higher employment rate, promoting equality between women and men.
ESF is investing in people for 50 years.
1957–1971 – Seeking equality between member states
The European Economic Community was created in 1957, by signing the Treaty of Rome. Full employment was sought during the first period of the ESF life. The member states had different levels of unemployment rate. Professional and geographic mobility was meant to eliminate such differences, it became the main objective.
Funds were allocated for supporting of unemployed, partly employed people, disadvantaged people and for re-qualifying of personnel in the companies.
1972-1983 – Restructuring was supported
Implementation of reforms started at the beginning of the second period. In order to use the funds the most efficiently, they were distributed according to the criteria established by the Community, not according to the guidelines of the member states. The total budget increased significantly.
Economic changes led to restructuring of all sectors of industry. That caused an increasing unemployment and lack of qualified employees.
90% of all funds were allocated to vocational training and assessment of further education. Combating of youth unemployment was also of high importance.
In 1973, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland joined the EEC.
In 1981, Greece joined.
1984-1988 – Conditions for structural changes were created
The belief that continual growth would lead to full employment in the Community started going out. The Fund was rearranged. Long-term structural changes acquired more importance. Equality of the countries was not the only goal anymore.
Funds were allocated for the measures of improvement of qualification, promoting employability of people, particularly under the age of 25.
Employment possibilities for long-term unemployed people were extended, and special support was allocated to poor regions.
In 1986 Portugal and Spain joined.
1989-1994 – Support to economic and social cohesion was increased. Along with the new description of internal market, the obligations to support of economic and social cohesion of the Community increased. The Single European Act guaranteed free movement of goods, people, services and capital starting in 1987. Another step to unanimous growth of member states was made in 1993 by the Maastricht Treaty, the treaty on founding the European Union.
Implementation of the Community’s initiatives became the example of multilateral cooperation strengthening. The following Community’s initiatives were established in 1991-1994:
EUROFORM – development and implementation of measures for qualification improvement, related to modern technologies;
NOW – support to women for equalising of structural changes in the labour market;
HORIZON – support for integration of people with serious disabilities and other groups, suffering from socio-cultural disadvantages.
1994-1999 – The measure for support of structural strategy was developed
The European Social Fund raised a new goal – to look ahead and support adaptability to industrial changes. Improvement of the employees’ qualification was promoted in relation to changes in industry. This reform was the result of transition from pure regulation of funds to the measure of structural strategy supporting. The Community’s initiative ADAPT was important for this task.
1994-1999 – Integration of the disabled into the labour market
A new goal was formulated – integration of people who were excluded from the labour market. It encompassed the disabled and young people.
A new Community’s initiative EMPLOYMENT had to implement these goals. Together with the existing HORIZON and NOW, and new YOUTHSTART and INTEGRA projects, they attempted to prevent exclusion of the disabled from the labour market.
In 1995 Austria, Sweden and Finland joined.
2000-2006 – Regulation of the labour market policy
The European policy is now focused on the employment issue. Support is granted for development of the labour market policy of the member states. The ESF becomes the most important financing source of this objective. Approximately 10% of the total EU budget is used for the ESF.
The main areas of activity are support to general and vocational training, lifelong learning.
2000-2006 – Establishment of new workplaces through support to entrepreneurs
The ESF’s support is granted to individual people. However, the positive effect usually exceeds benefit to one person. The most of the programs support the unemployed, realising new ideas and starting new businesses. Further training and consultations ensure long-term success.
In 2004, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the EU.
2007-2013 – Strengthening of multilateral cooperation
The main goals raised for this programming period are full employment, quality and productivity at work, social cohesion and inclusion. As the role of multilateral cooperation will remain important together with all these goals, the principles of the Community’s initiative EQUAL, successfully tested since 2000, will be integrated into the new programming of 2007-2013.
During the 2000-2006 programming period, EQUAL developed new ideas for creation of atmosphere that promotes integration. They strive to combat discrimination on the basis of gender, national origin, religion, previous conviction, disability or sexual orientation.
In 2007, Romania and Bulgaria joined.
2007-2013 – Support to convergence process
Two main issues of this programming period are convergence of the most and the least developed regions, strengthening of regional competitiveness and employment. The measures related to economic and social changes are supported.
The most important future goals are:
• increase adaptability of employees and companies;
• improve availability of employment;
• defeat discrimination and facilitate integration of disabled people into the labour market;
• support partnership in order to reform areas of employment and integration.