ESF+ budgetary Regulation published as part of 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework

As difficult a concept as it might seem for those of us in the United Kingdom grappling with the legal, economic and, in some cases, emotional turmoil of Brexit, life in Brussels rumbles on and – in particular – machinations for the policy and financial leviathan that is the upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

For the uninitiated reader, the MFF is the seven year budgetary cycle of the European Union setting the maximum level of resources (‘ceiling’) for each major category (‘heading’) of EU spending for the period it covers. There have been five multiannual financial frameworks to date. The fifth and current MFF, covering the period 2014-2020, was adopted in December 2013 with a value of, approximately, €1 trillion over the multi-annual period of the MFF.

Despite the eye watering sums of money involved, the EU budget is primarily an investment budget and no more so when the the role of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) are in play given their role as the main financial instrument of the European Union in tackling the ‘wicked problems’ of workers’ mobility, social cohesion, improving employment opportunities and competitiveness across Europe.

In this vein, on 30 May the European Commission published its proposed legislative Regulation on the operation of the European Social Fund+ (ESF+) which will be the subject of a draft report to the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) of the European Parliament by rapporteur Verónica Lope Fontagné tomorrow, August 29th.

With a provisional budget of €101.2 billion (current prices), the ESF+ Regulation proposes merging a number of existing EU funds and programmes.  Specifically, the European Social Fund Plus seeks to merge the:

Whilst being complementary to other funds (such as the EGF, Erasmus, AMIF, ERDF, RSP, InvestEU), the ESF+ will remain the main EU instrument for tackling unemployment, poverty and exclusion by supporting job seekers, marginalised groups and those in socio-economic deprivation.  By investing in policy and systems reforms to enhance the skills and education levels of people, including digital skills, the ESF+ aims to equip these groups to be able to participate in today’s changing labour markets.

Accordingly, the new ESF+ proposes to concentrate its investment in three main areas: education, employment and social inclusion.

  • Member States with a Not In Employment, Education or Training (NEET) rate above the European Union average in 2019 will be required to dedicate at least 10% of ESF+ financial allocations under shared management to targeted action and structural reforms to support youth employment.  Additional support will also be available to the EU’s outermost regions and sparsely populated areas thereby ensuring that Member States facing challenges in this policy area programme area allocate an adequate share of ESF resources to support vulnerable young people who need assistance;
  • The draft Regulation also proposes that at least 25% of the ESF+ shared management strand be allocated to fostering social inclusion to provide more integrated and targeted support in response to social and labour market challenges;
  • Social innovation, mobility and health will be promoted through direct and indirect management strands on Employment and Social Innovation and Health with targeted financial support to test innovative solutions, support labour mobility in Europe and help modernise healthcare systems in Member States, particularly in the wake of widespread demographic changes already apparent in many Member States workforces.

Finally, the Commission proposes the almost boilerplate clauses promising ever more simplification of fund and programme management to reduce the administrative burden on national authorities or non-governmental organisations benefiting from ESF+ measures albeit those at sub-central government level in Member States may roll a weary eye at such lofty pronouncements which bear little reality with learned experience.

Nevertheless, with Structural and Investment Funds comprising almost 50% of the current MFF 2014-2020 programme, the Commission can (in all fairness) hardly be accused of only paying lip service to these policy priorities.  The trick will be, as with all expenditure of public funds, in ensuring that they are spent wisely and efficiently thereby maximising the impact of each public Euro, zloty, koruna and crown spent.

Image courtesy of Pixaby/Nathan23