On 16 January the plenary of the European Parliament adopted, by a large majority, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs’ report on the 2021-2027 European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), which will merge the existing European Social Fund (ESF), the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), the Employment and Social Innovation Programme (EaSI) and the EU Health Programme.

The Parliament’s proposals for change should contribute to make the ESF+ a more powerful instrument for achieving a more social Europe and advancing on equality, social inclusion and non-discrimination of the Roma population across the EU after 2020. Elements such as the explicit reference to Roma (including through a specific investment priority), the increase in the resources for social inclusion, fight against poverty and discrimination, the focus on youth and children, and the relevance given to partnership and capacity building and to transnational cooperation should contribute to this end.

The Parliament calls for a specific objective addressing explicitly and exclusively ‘the socioeconomic integration of marginalised communities such as Roma’ (considering Roma separately from ‘third country nationals’) and including also ‘the fight against discrimination’ of this group. It also proposes the explicit consideration of Roma in a number of indicators as well as in other parts of the text. Another relevant element is the call to link the ESF+ with the post-2020 EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies.

The maintenance of the specific focus on Roma inclusion in the 2021-2017 programming period reflects the need for ESF+ to specifically address the unequal situation that Roma face across the EU, giving continuation to the introduction of the specific I.P. 9.2. in the 2014-2020 programming period. There is historical evidence that, when Roma are not explicitly named and are considered within the overall conception of marginalised groups, they are very likely left aside. The explicit, although not exclusive, mention to Roma in policy and financial instruments visualises their specific situation and guides the focus of public investments.

Other relevant proposals include:

  • Increase in the overall ESF+ budget to €120,46 billion (an 19% increase compared to the original proposal by the European Commission)
  • Raise of the minimum amount allocated by Member States to social inclusion and poverty eradication from 25% in the Commission’s proposal to at least 27%. A 3% (instead of 2%) to the specific objective of social inclusion of the most deprived and/or material deprivation, in line with FEAD scope, should be added. This percentage should be complementary to the national resources to address extreme poverty.
  • More resources to youth employment. Member States having a rate of young people aged 15 to 29 not in employment, education or training (NEET) is above the Union average in 2019 or where the NEET rate is above 15%on the basis of Eurostat data, shall allocate at least 15 % of their ESF+ resources under shared management for the years 2021 to 2025 in the programming period to targeted actions and structural reforms to promote youth employment, paying particular attention to the most affected regions.
  • Dedicated budget for the European Child Guarantee. For the first time the social inclusion of children and the reduction of child poverty feature among the ESF specific objectives. Member States will have to allocate at least 5% of their ESF+ resources under shared management to targeted actions aimed at implementing the European Child Guarantee in order to contribute to children’s equal access to free healthcare, free education, free childcare, decent housing and adequate nutrition– with the aim to tackle child poverty and social exclusion. These measures will need to be in line with the European Commission Recommendation on Investing in Children. The ESF+ will also support the transition from institutional care to family and community-based care.
  • Further attention to synergies and ensuring coordination, complementarity and coherence between the ESF+ and other Union funds, programmes and instruments such as the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF), the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, InvestEU, Creative Europe, the Rights and Values Instrument, Erasmus, the Asylum and Migration Fund, both in the planning phase and during implementation.
  • Connection between the ESF+ and European and international frameworks such as the European Semester, the European Pillar of Social Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals (e.g. with goals 1, 4, 5, 8 and 10). All actions under the ESF+ should also respect the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
  • Boost to the partnership principle by calling on Member States to ensure, in partnership with local and regional authorities, a meaningful participation of social partners, civil society organisations, equality bodies, national human rights institutions and other relevant or representative organisations in the programming and delivery of the ESF+.
  • Stronger focus and a dedicated funding for capacity building, a crucial element to improve ESF+ impact and effectiveness. Member States are requested to allocate at least 2% of ESF+ resources for the capacity building of social partners and civil society organisations at Union and national level in the form of training, networking measures, and strengthening of the social dialogue, and to activities jointly undertaken by the social partners.
  • Recognised importance to transnational cooperation, including in ‘combating poverty’. The Parliament recalls that ‘Transnational cooperation has significant added value and should therefore be supported by all Member States (…). It is also necessary to reinforce the Commission’s role in facilitating exchanges of experience and coordinating implementation of relevant initiatives.’ In this sense, it states that Member States may support transnational cooperation actions under a dedicated priority and that these actions may be programmed under almost all ESF specific objectives (excluding (xi) addressing material deprivation through food and/or basic material assistance to the most deprived, including accompanying measureset out in points). Finally, it calls for the support to ‘cross-border partnerships’ under the Employment and Social Innovation strand, i.e. permanent structures of cooperation between public employment services, civil society or the social partners located in at least two Member States.

By 31 December 2024, the Commission shall carry out a mid-term evaluation of the strands proposed for the future ESF+, which combine a system of shared and direct management: Investment for Jobs and Growth goal (shared management), Employment and Social Innovation strand (direct management) and Health strand (direct management). The results of that mid-term evaluation shall be presented to the European Parliament and to the Council.

Following the adoption of the report in plenary, the matter has been referred back to the competent committee (Committee on Employment and Social Affairs) for interinstitutional negotiations to reach an agreement on the final text.

Further information

  • Text adopted by the European Parliament- Amendments adopted by the European Parliament on 16 January 2019 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+)
  • European Commission Proposal for a Regulation on the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) (COM(2018)0382– C8-0232/2018 – 2018/0206(COD))
  • EURoma position paper ‘How the future 2021-2027 ESF+ can better contribute to Roma inclusion and equality’