Last year, the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) regulation was formally adopted. It is a multi-billion-euro ship that set sail in very stormy seas. Those waters did not get any calmer.
As we learn to deal with the coronavirus in the long term, thanks to greatly improved tools, we are faced with a layer cake of crises, namely climate change, energy squeezes and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
These crises hurt, directly or indirectly, and to different degrees, all European citizens. This is why monitoring the health of the European Social Fund is vital.
The European Social Fund is the EU’s main financial tool for improving the lives of millions of European citizens. The fund boasts ambitious aims and an even more ambitious budget. That budget has already been going to various organisations, both governmental and from civil society.
Creating a fairer society with equal opportunities for access to employment and training has never been more important. At its heart, the ESF+ puts into practice Europe’s commitment to a social economy that safeguards its working citizens, which is the reason it has been running since 1957.
The coronavirus pandemic set off a spike in unemployment and sent shockwaves in education, training and employment. We have seen children struggle to keep in touch with their education, parents struggle to maintain their work-life balance and workers struggle with returning to work after prolonged absences.
The ESF+ addresses these issues head on.
The coronavirus pandemic set off a spike in unemployment and sent shockwaves in education, training and employment. ESF+ addresses these challenges head on
First, it enables people to access employment, especially the long-term unemployed who are looking to return to the job market. There are many ways the ESF+ does this, including by giving direct support to SMEs to be more inclusive in the way they recruit employees.
This is highly effective at reaching those who are most vulnerable as well as those who would ordinarily be most disadvantaged in the labour market.
Such initiatives are invaluable in fighting the economic hardships that are being thrust upon the European economies at this time. Just as the ESF+ is supporting jobs, it is also there to promote education and training, especially lifelong learning.
This means that nobody is excluded from the ability to reskill and retrain, no matter their age or background.
EU funds are ensuring that anybody can upgrade their skills and knowledge. This is vital, especially now, when the economy is more volatile due to external factors. Staying abreast of market trends improves workers’ flexibility, which has a very positive impact on employability and job security.
On a European level, it is one thing to speak about the tens of billions of euros spent over a seven-year period. But it is another to assess the real impact on the ground.
Figures in the abstract are not always self-explanatory. I believe it is more helpful to look at the evidence from the thousands of communities that make up the EU.
Ultimately, as much as the European Parliament has given its guidance, it is governments that are the best placed to assess how the ESF+ can have the biggest impact on a national level.
While we are not yet out of the woods, to our encouragement, data is showing that the ESF+ investments are working
It is helpful to look at projects like the one in Latvia that is helping 55,000 people receive training in new professions. Each person is being given a new chance, despite their challenging circumstances.
Or the project in Ireland that supports students in finishing their education, because limited finances or disabilities should not prevent young people from achieving their best academic performance.
These are the ways the ESF+ helps Europeans, and there are thousands of success stories that give hope to legislators as we move further into these crises.
As a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL), stories like these give me and my colleagues renewed impetus to continue working to improve Europeans’ quality of life.
Building a Europe that is more just for its citizens is crucial for our collective wellbeing. As we saw with the coronavirus, the energy crisis will put the most pressure on those at the bottom of the income scale, and disproportionately so. These are also the people who will benefit the most from the green transition.
When the pandemic hit, the European Parliament became preoccupied with its effects on society. While we are not yet out of the woods, to our encouragement, data is showing that these investments are working; the ESF+ is working.
Now, with the Social Climate Fund, EMPL is concerned with the social effects of the green transition. As rapporteur on this file, I can say that my colleagues and I are using the lessons from the implementation of the ESF+ to ensure that our efforts have a meaningful, tangible impact that can shield our citizens from the worst of these turbulent times.