On 11 April 2019 EURoma Technical Secretariat was invited to share its views on the post-2020 European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) at the European Conference ‘ESF+, a PLUS for our Future!’ organised in the context of the Romanian Presidency of the European Union. The event brought together representatives of the authorities in charge of the ESF, including those taking part in EURoma, of the European Commission as well as other relevant actors. Participants had the opportunity to discuss, in a key moment of the negotiations of the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework, how to upgrade the ESF to the future challenges and to the requirements of a social and competitive market economy.
The opening session, which counted on the participation of European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility Ms Marianne Thyssen as well as the Romanian Minister of European Funds Rovana Plumb and representatives of other European institutions, public administrations and organisations, set the scene by reviewing the benefits of ESF investments for all Union citizens and the challenges that the post-2020 ESF+ will face.
Participants then focus on specific areas/target groups set as priority for the ESF, notably the investments in youth (notably in the area of employment), the use of integrated approaches (such as CLLD) to address poverty and social exclusion and the promotion of the right to independent living.
The gender dimension of ESI Funds was also considered based on the findings of report of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) assessing the gender dimension of ESI Funds programmes in the 2014-2020 programming period in 11 Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden. The assessment analysed how the dual approach to gender equality, namely gender mainstreaming and targeted interventions, is reflected in current ESIF documentation.
EURoma Network contribution
EURoma was invited to take part in the panel addressing the specific challenges countries and regions are facing as regards investments in young people and the most appropriate types of measures that need to be developed to address them. The panel focused specifically on youth unemployment and in particular on the situation of young people not in employment, education and training (NEETs), a particularly disadvantaged group because of its diversity and of the fact that these youngsters often present multiple and complex support needs. The promotion of youth entrepreneurship and financial instruments opportunities were also addressed.
This panel was of particular relevance for EURoma Network given that Roma population is significantly younger than the overall population and that there are important inequality gaps between Roma people and the overall population as regards employment and education as illustrated by data from the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA):
- Lower educational levels, 68% Roma leave education at secondary school level
- Lower employment rates (around 25%) and higher unemployment (66%)
- Increasingly high percentage of NEETS/NEETS overrepresented among Roma youngsters (63%)
In this context, EURoma shared its views on relevant elements to be taken into account in future ESF+ investments addressing youth unemployment and the situation of the NEETs, based on its experience as regards Roma. It focused on the following points:
- The importance of considering the diversity of the target group (youngsters, NEETS) and focusing explicitly on those sub-groups requiring specific attention because their needs or situations of vulnerability/disadvantaged, e.g. women, people suffering from multiple discrimination, Roma, migrants…
This explicit focus is of key importance to ensure that investments reach the groups most in need as it visualises their specific situation and signals relevant public authorities where to focus (through targeted or mainstream interventions). In the case of Roma, there is historical evidence that when Roma are not explicitly named and are considered within the overall conception of marginalised groups, they are likely to be left aside.
In this regard, EURoma is extremely satisfied with the explicit mention to Roma under one of the Specific Objectives of the European Commission Proposal for ESF+, which means a straightforward acknowledgement of the need to specifically address the unequal situation that Roma face across the EU, giving continuation to the introduction of the specific Investment Priority 9.2. on the ‘Socio-economic integration of marginalised communities such as the Roma’ in the 2014-2020 ESI Funds Regulations. Unfortunately, we are missing the explicit reference to EU Mobile Roma Citizens, a particularly disadvantaged social group in many Member States, with a special focus to the situation of children.
- Processes of change for the most disadvantaged groups are complex and require approaches that are intensive in terms of length and resources as well as holistic in terms of types of actions, funds and actors involved. We should not miss the opportunities offered by the seven-year ESF+ framework to support long-term, intensive and holistic investments, which are essential to achieve equality, inclusion and non-discrimination. Disruption of key investments and short-term approaches within next ESF+ programming period should be avoided.
- The integrated approach needs to be facilitated to become a reality. The Regulation of ESF+ proposal advances in the promotion of the integrated approach by including a range of thematic priorities (employment, education, tackling poverty and social inclusion, health, food and material deprivation in cases of extreme poverty…). However, the management of different strands and/or with other funds appears to be a complex process which would need to be eased so that a combination of actions can be jointly developed, overcoming a mere multi-sectorial framework or umbrella package. This should include similar rules, timings, eligibility criteria, etc…
- The need to adapt to the specific situation of each person (through individualised approaches) but also to the market. In this sense, it is essential to anticipate to market needs and mainly to the digital transformation that is taking place by including digital competences when considering employment/training actions and not missing the increasing opportunities in the digital sector.
- The consideration and explicit recognition of the prejudices and discrimination as an additional barrier that affects certain groups/persons (facing in some cases multiple discrimination) and the development of specific measures to address them and indicators to measure them.
In this sense, while discrimination on different basis, including ethnic origin, is mentioned several times throughout the Regulation proposal, and particularly in Article 6 (Equality between men and women and equal opportunities, and non-discrimination), further emphasis on the operational part of such horizontal criteria will be operated should be given. Unless the Regulation specifically lay down the requirement to establish specific measures (and eligible actions such as those related to the support of victims, litigation etc…) and indicators to measure advancements regarding horizontal criteria, the impact will be very limited.
- The promotion of social innovation as a way to find solutions to deeply-rooted exclusion and discrimination. Although the current Regulation proposal opens up interesting opportunities for searching for positive solutions for social inclusion, an explicit mention to the need to focus on particularly disadvantaged groups such as Roma, both “national” and EU Mobile Roma, should be included as a way to ensure they are not excluded.
Further indications should also be included to assure the scaling up and continuation of practices that prove to be efficient, since otherwise opportunities may be lost despite positive intentions. This is of particular interest for complex cases referred to social inclusion and discrimination measures.
- Transnational cooperation (bilateral and multilateral level) should be fostered. Although transnational cooperation is widely conceived under the Employment and Social Innovation Strand “to accelerate the transfer of, and to facilitate the scaling of, innovative solutions, in particular for the areas of employment, skills and social inclusion, across Europe”, further emphasis should be given to its mandatory component (“shall”) and its focus on the most disadvantaged groups such as Roma, both from the direct and indirect ESF+ management. Promotion of active transnational cooperation on Roma issues should be foreseen as an effective way to advance in social cohesion, both providing the adequate conditions to allow for active transfer of existing positive practices to other EU contexts and for establishing cooperation mechanisms between countries of origin and destination of EU Mobile Roma to jointly find solutions and improve their living conditions.
For further information on EURoma’s views on European Social Fund Plus, see its position paper ‘How the future 2021-2017 European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) can better contribute to Roma inclusion and equality’