European Social Fund

The European Social Fund (ESF ) is the main financial instrument of the European Union to support employment policies in the Member States and to promote economic and social cohesion. The ESF expenditure amounts to around 10% of the total EU budget.

The ESF is one of the EU structural funds, which are used to improve social cohesion and economic development in the regions of the Union. The Structural Funds are instruments for the redistribution of financial resources, which are used especially in the less developed regions, to promote cohesion within Europe. The aim of the ESF funding is to create new and better-quality jobs in the EU, which is accomplished by the co-financing of national, regional and local projects aimed at increasing the employment rate, improve the quality of jobs and a better integration in the labor market aim in the Member States and their regions.


The European Social Fund has experienced multiple, substantive, structural realignments in the past. Currently, the fund is in its seventh funding, covering different historical periods.

The first funding: 1958-1971

Established by the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the European Social Fund of the Community's oldest instruments. At that time the employment level was high throughout Europe, with the exception of southern Italy. The ESF had the reduction or elimination of unemployment in the most affected regions to target and encouraged the reintegration of unemployed, underemployed and disabled through retraining and aid, but also the work-related relocation. The most favored countries in the promotion were Italy regarding the resettlement and Germany regarding the retraining promotion. The ESF shall so early a contribution to labor migration in Europe. The funding was from 1961 to 1972 about 420 million units of account. The concept of the ESF was that of a compensation fund. That is, the countries adopted measures at its option and by then requested a refund ( 50 % of costs ) for the ESF. This position was re- employment within six months of receipt of the measure. A control by the Commission did not exist and the target group was relatively limited and closed young people, self-employed and not with a training lots. The early ESF was determined by a market- affine approach and a refusal of the transfer of responsibilities to the community. The mechanisms of the market would have the effect of even full employment and wage increases and the task of comprehensive social security should remain in their hand as an important feature of the nation-states. The fund should be to produce only an acceleration of the qualification- adaptation of workers to the market.

The second funding: 1971-1983

The structural transformation of the 1970s led to a rise in unemployment, particularly strong in individual sectors. At the same time, however, there was also a shortage of skilled labor. Most affected by unemployment were the elderly, young people, disabled people and women. Because of this deterioration in the labor market, the ESF should be reformed. In addition to a tremendous increase in fund total was determined that eligibility criteria are established by the community that the target groups will be expanded and that the eligible actions are also extended. This strengthened the role of the European Union, but the nested priorities immense. In the reform, there were different interests. The southern European countries (including Ireland) stood for a stronger regional orientation a (promotion of structurally weak regions), France ceded to a more people- group- oriented orientation, and other countries such as Germany and Denmark tried a transfer of skills to the community to avoid. The result was a compromise that in the four types of support, training (about 90 % of the funds ), local exchange, facilitating access reflected to the labor market for certain workers and employment support for regions. From 1976, the focus of the ESF to put on the fight against youth unemployment, which rose by the economic crises of the 1970s.

The third period: 1983-1988

Due to the crisis the ESF expenditure for youth unemployment ( especially in Britain ) and structural funds for regions (especially in Italy) had risen sharply since 1978, whereby the fund was overwhelmed financially. Added to this was the realization that the employment market is not satisfactory self-regulated, and the fact that in the 1972 reform was already planned for 1982, a revision of the ESF. Again, the conflict between the objective of regional or group-related personal promotion occurred, which ended again with a compromise, but which since 1975 existed a structural funds for regional support with the European Regional Development Fund. Were funded qualification measures for achieving sustainable employment, employment opportunities for long-term unemployed and regional development. The senior regional support extended to Greenland, Greece, the French overseas departments, Ireland, the Italian Mezzogiorno, Northern Ireland and later ( from 1986) and Spain and Portugal. In addition, pilot projects were funded and innovative measures with a share of 10 % of the fund. These focus more on the promotion of groups of people. One effect of the regionalization of the allocation of funds was the need for an area directory by socio-economic criteria. The eligible regions were determined by the unemployment rate and the GDP per capita.

The fourth funding period: 1989-1993

In the 1980s, unemployment and application numbers were further increased, but also institutional changes in the European Community made ​​a new edition of the ESF necessary. The Single European Act (SEA) set out inter alia the completion of the internal market in 1992, and the improvement of economic and social cohesion using Structural Funds. The Structural Funds should be replaced in a common overall reform. The structurally weaker countries had reservations about the single market and called for greater regional preferential treatment on the Structural Funds, which results in a doubling of the funding amount to 63.2 billion ECU (of which 20 billion for ESF) shows. The principles of the Structural Funds reform under President Jacques Delors were concentration, programming, partnership and additionality. The concentration foresaw five goals ( one backward regions, 2 regions in industrial decline, 3 long-term unemployment, Jugendarbeitsolsigkeit 4, 5a Agricultural Economics, 5b rural areas). The programming was a relief after administration of any single award for projects more happened, but the means to national or regional programs based on Community Support Frameworks and Operational Programmes were issued. The principle of partnership involved the cooperation of the Commission in the implementation and monitoring of programs and the participation of economic and social actors in the producing regions. The additionality states that the promotion is not a substitute for national funding, but as a complement to this is added. In addition, the Commission has now set up Community initiatives on their own responsibility. For these specific measures on regional order about 5 % of the funds were provided.

The fifth funding: 1994-1999

The change of the institutional framework with the establishment of the European Economic and Monetary Union on the Structural Funds similar effects as the EEA before. The structurally weaker countries had socio-economic concerns and called for a further increase of the funds which were then increased to about 141 billion ECU. The objectives of the European structural policy have been adjusted, affecting the operations of the ESF. In the programming single programming documents were introduced, which should facilitate the approval, in the partnership of the range of participants was expanded and the additionality has been adapted to the respective national total expenditure. Were used for the assessment of the support ex ante, a companion and an ex post evaluation introduced and increased the proportion of funds for community initiatives to approximately 9%.

The sixth funding: 2000-2006

On the basis of the Amsterdam Treaty 1997, the European Employment Strategy was adopted, in which the action of the ESF should be focused in the future. It is aimed at employability, entrepreneurship, adaptability and gender equality. The fund's capital was increased to € 62.5 billion and adjusted the objectives of the structural support again. About 70% of ESF funding went to Objective 1, the promotion of the poorest regions, about 11.5 % of target 2, the economic and social conversion of areas facing structural difficulties, and about 12.5 % of target 3, the adaptation and modernization of education and employment policies in non- objective 1 regions. The Regulation on the operational programs, the priorities of active labor market policy, social inclusion and equal opportunities and lifelong learning were promoted. The focus of the ESF in this funding amounted to individual support for skills, improving education and employment services, support and integration services, and awareness and information measures. As a new element, the micro promotion was introduced, which gave small grants to NGOs.

The seventh funding: 2007-2014

In response to the EU's eastward enlargement of the ESF was changed again. First, the funds were raised to € 75 billion. The objectives of structural policy were reduced to convergence, regional competitiveness and employment, and territorial cooperation. The fields of action of the ESF are the first two goals, but not the third goal that is out of the former Community Initiative INTERREG forth. Moreover, gender mainstreaming in the labor market is to be pursued via the ESF funding. By this generalization of the objectives of the Structural Funds ERDF and ESF were theoretically available to all European regions. This represents a compromise between net contributors and net recipients countries dar. Through the statistical determination of eligibility and the structural weakness of the recent accession countries over the old would be particularly net contributors have been excluded from the promotion and so a more personal group -related target was with the regional competitiveness and employment again strengthened.

The role of the ESF in the political and strategic direction of the EU

The overarching strategy of the European Union, the Lisbon Agenda, which aims in Europe to create by 2020 the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, the sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, while respecting the enabling environment. From the objectives of the Lisbon agenda, the priorities of the ESF arise.

To support the Lisbon agenda several fiscal instruments are used. This includes the cohesion policy, which is aimed at reducing economic and social disparities between the EU countries and regions. To this end, financial resources (structural funds) are from the EU budget - used to promote economic and social development of the less developed regions - including the ESF.

To support necessary in the context of globalization and the aging of the population increase competitiveness and employment offered by the European Employment Strategy, the EU Member States, a coordination framework for the coordination of common priorities and objectives in the area of employment. These common priorities are then set out in the Employment Guidelines and disposed of in the National Reform Programmes of the individual Member States. The ESF funding is used by the Member States to promote their National Reform Programmes and their National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF ) is used, in which the most important areas for the EU Structural Funds in the Member States shall be determined.

In determining the most important areas of the ESF is the European Social Agenda of importance. With the social agenda is the "European social model " are framed by a modernization of the labor market and the social systems so that both workers and businesses can benefit from the opportunities of the international competition, technological advances and changing population structures and simultaneously the most vulnerable members of society are protected. The concept of " flexicurity " (flexibility and security) is part of the current ESF initiatives. " Flexicurity " can be defined on the other hand as a political strategy to increase the flexibility of the labor market, work organization and the relations between employers and workers on the one hand and the creation of employment and income security. The term " flexicurity " represents a new approach to employment policy, which is more likely to " work for life" instead of the previous order " the job for life " is. Workers are encouraged to make their work lives autonomously through lifelong learning, flexibility and mobility.

The ESF: determining the strategy

The ESF is managed by seven-year program cycles. Strategy and budget of the ESF are negotiated between the EU Member States, the European Parliament and the EU Commission. In the strategy, the objectives of ESF funding will be that match partially or completely with those of the other structural funds. The current ESF funding cycle has the following objectives:

The strategy also includes broader " priority axes " where necessary to achieve the objectives and eligible activities are included.

Allocation of financial resources of the ESF

The level of ESF funding differs from region to region and depends on their relative wealth. The EU regions are subdivided based on their regional GDP per capita compared to the EU average (EU with 25 or 15 Member States) in four funding categories and divided between the two objectives.

For the convergence objective include:

  • Convergence regions with a GDP per head of less than 75 % of the average EU-25
  • Phasing -out regions with a GDP per head of more than 75 % of the average EU-25, but less than 75 % of the average EU -15

For the Regional competitiveness and employment include:

  • Phasing -in regions with a GDP per head of less than 75 % of the average EU -15 ( in 2000-2006 ), but more than 75 % of the average EU -15 ( in 2007-2013 )
  • Competitiveness and employment regions, which refers to all other EU regions

In convergence regions, the co-financing of projects on the ESF can be up to 85 % of the total cost. In regions of the Regional Competitiveness and Employment co-financing usually is 50%. In the more prosperous Member States and regions, the ESF funding complement existing national employment initiatives, while they may represent the main source of funding for employment initiatives in the less prosperous Member States. The eligible regions in the current ESF program edition (2007-2013) are listed on the map.

Implementation of the ESF

While the strategy at the EU level is established, is the implementation of ESF funding is the responsibility of the Member States and the regions of the EU. Under the agreement, the strategy and allocations programming is based on a common basic principle. The Member States and their regions plan together with the European Commission, the seven-year Operational Programmes. In the operational programs are funded activity fields, which can be determined geographically or thematically described ( Example: " Operational Programme of Brandenburg for the ESF ").

Member States shall designate national ESF managing authorities, who are responsible for the selection of projects, the disbursement of funds and the evaluation of progress and the results of projects. In addition, certification and testing authorities are appointed to supervise and ensure compliance with the rules governing the use of ESF resources.

For the disbursement of funds from the Fund, a Member State must submit a Community support framework, which must be approved by the Commission. The CSF contains strategy and priorities of the State for actions with the funds whose objectives and a proportionate interest in the Fund's resources in addition to other funding sources. To carry out the fiberglass is at least an operational program to work, which must be approved by the Commission. The OP defined multiannual measures which may be funded from multiple funds. To administer relief CSFs and OPs can be summarized in a single programming document.

ESF projects

The implementation of the ESF site via projects that are requested and conducted by various public and private sources. These include national, regional and local authorities, educational and training institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and voluntary associations and social partners such as trade unions, works councils, trade and professional associations or individual companies.

The beneficiaries of the ESF projects can be quite different, for example, individual employees, groups of persons, industries, trade unions, public administrations or individual companies. Persons who most frequently encounter when looking for work or in the professional development difficulties, as long-term unemployed and women, are a special target group. It is roughly estimated that each year more than 9 million people from the affected groups through participation in ESF projects are supported, see Table 1

The European Social Fund 2007-2013

The current program cycle of the ESF runs from 2007 to 2013 under the theme " Investing in People". Over this period, around 75 billion euros - nearly 10 % of the EU budget - used for projects to promote employment. Funding is granted for six specific priority areas:

  • Promotion of human capital (34 % of total funding )
  • Improving access to employment and sustainability (30%)
  • Increasing the adaptability of workers and firms, enterprises and entrepreneurs (18%)
  • Improving the social inclusion of disadvantaged people (14%)
  • Strengthening institutional capacity at national, regional and local level ( 3%)
  • Mobilisation for reforms in the fields of employment and inclusion (1%)

In the regions, the actual distribution of funds according to local and regional priorities varied. All six priorities apply to both the Convergence and Regional competitiveness and employment. In the Convergence regions, the focus, however, usually is on the " promotion of human capital ".

The use of ESF funds by Member States for the period 2007-2013 is shown in Table 2.

Further Reading

  • ESF ESF brochure Brochure: The brochure published in 2007, contains basic information on the objectives, principles and operating mechanisms of the European Social Fund. It is available in 23 EU languages. (PDF file, 944 kB)
  • EU legal text for ESF EU legal text for ESF Regulation ( EC) No 1081/ 2006 of 5 July 2006 on the European Social Fund. (PDF file, 125 kB)