With the European Union budget for 2021-2027 currently being negotiated, the European Social Fund Plus is also up for modification. On 16 January MEPs agreed in plenary to increase the money allocated to the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) to €120 billion for the next budgetary period of seven years. This vote signals that the EU wants to do better on social issues and is in line with the expectation that the EU should be a strong actor on social and employment questions.
The ESF+ is the main financial tool of the European Union for social and employment issues. The funding is distributed across Member States and their regions to finance employment, education, anti-poverty and social inclusion programmes. The primary focus of the budget proposal in this ESF+ is on youth employment and support for children in Europe. With a youth unemployment rate of over 40% in Greece and over 30% in Spain and Italy, this objective is paramount and immediate. In the proposal, the European Parliament furthermore advocates for better measures to implement a European Child Guarantee that seeks to contribute to children’s equal opportunities and access to free education.
Details on the proposed ESF+
SOLIDAR welcomes the European Parliament’s decision to increase the ESF+ budget to €120 billion. This is equivalent to an increase of 19% in comparison to the previously proposed €101 billion by the European Commission. We particularly support the Parliament’s agreement to earmark 27% of the fund for social inclusion at and 3% for the fight against extreme poverty. Furthermore we welcome the focus on better partnership with civil society and the strengthening of gender equality in the ESF+.
The European Social Fund Plus also underwent a broader revamp of EU funds that sought to simplify and merge a number of existing programmes. As a result, the ESF+ now comprises the European Social Fund and Youth Employment Initiative, the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived, the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation as well as the EU Health Programme.
With this vote in the plenary of the European Parliament, the Council, Commission and the Parliament now have to find a common position on the ESF+ before the fund can enter into force. SOLIDAR stresses the importance of this being done in a timely and constructive manner, as delays or cuts in social funds would endanger the provision of social services in Europe. We urge Member States to work towards reaching a final agreement on the ESF+ and the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) before the European Elections in May 2019.