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EQUAL is part of the European Union's strategy for more and better jobs and for ensuring that no-one is denied access to them. Funded by the European Social Fund, EQUAL will test new ways of tackling discrimination and inequality experienced by those in work and those looking for a job. It will provide the scope to try out new ideas which could change future policy and practice in employment and training.
EQUAL, the Community Initiative concerning transnational co- operation to promote new means of combating all forms of discrimination and inequalities in connection with the labour market.
Building on lessons learned under the EMPLOYMENT and ADAPT programmes, EQUAL will act as a testing ground to develop and disseminate new ways of delivering employment policies in order to combat all sorts of discrimination and inequality experienced by those seeking access to the labour market and those already within it. The particular needs of asylum seekers will be addressed taking into account their specific situation.
EQUAL will principally benefit those subject to the main forms of discrimination (based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation) and inequality.
The nature of the actions
EQUAL will operate by bringing together the key players in a geographical area or sector. The different worlds of public administration, non-governmental organisations, social partners and the business sector (in particular SMEs) will work in partnership, pooling their different types of expertise and experience. These Development Partnerships will agree a strategy within which they will try out new ways of dealing with problems of discrimination and inequality which they have already pinpointed.
Central to the work of each Development Partnership will be its links with at least one partnership from another country and its involvement in a network of others dealing with the same theme across Europe. The new ideas will be tested with a view to using the results to influence the design of future policy and practice. Development Partnerships will be selected for EQUAL funding following national calls for proposals.
The European Commission, in consultation with the European Parliament, Member States and the social partners has set nine themes for the first call for EQUAL proposals. Eight of the themes are linked directly to the European Employment Strategy. The ninth covers the specific needs of asylum seekers. Overall, the aim of the thematic approach is to explore new ways of tackling the problems common to different types of discrimination and inequality, rather than focusing on a specific target group.
Each Member State will choose the themes within which it wishes to explore and test new ideas in co-operation with other Member States. In making their decision Member States will consider the national priorities on which they want to focus activity and where they think they can benefit most from working with other countries. National calls for proposals will set out the themes under which potential Development Partnerships can apply for EQUAL funding.
The nine thematic priorities in EQUAL
1. Facilitating access and return to the labour market for those who have difficulty in being integrated or re-integrated into a labour market which must be open to all.
2. Combating racism and xenophobia in relation to the labour market.
3. Opening up the business creation process to all by providing the tools required for setting up in business and for the identification and exploitation of new possibilities for creating employment in urban and rural areas.
4. Strengthening the social economy (the third sector), in particular the services of interest to the community, with a focus on improving the quality of jobs.
5. Promoting lifelong learning and inclusive work practices which encourage the recruitment and retention of those suffering discrimination and inequality in connection with the labour market.
6. Supporting the adaptability of firms and employees to structural economic change and the use of information technology and other new technologies.
Equal Opportunities for women and men
7. Reconciling family and professional life, as well as the re- integration of men and women who have left the labour market, by developing more flexible and effective forms of work organisation and support services.
8. Reducing gender gaps and supporting job desegregation.
9. Helping the integration of asylum seekers: Depending on the official status of the asylum seeker - an extremely complex area, with variations between Member States - assistance may be for new ways of helping to access the labour market, or to provide training for unsuccessful asylum seekers prior to their leaving the country.
The basic working element of EQUAL will be the Development Partnership. A Development Partnership will work within one thematic area and bring together interested parties with relevant experience and sharing a common purpose. It should involve key players such as: local and regional authorities; public employment services; non- governmental organisations; the business sector (particularly SMEs); and the social partners. There must be at least two different types of partner involved from the outset.
Most partnerships will bring together the key players from one particular geographical area, such as a city, a defined rural area, a local authority area, or a travel-to-work-area (geographic partnerships) However, given the thematic approach of Equal, a partnership might chose, for example, to focus on a particular economic sector or industry or on the causes of discrimination against particular groups (sectoral partnerships).
A partnership will be much more effective when all the partners participate fully in the decision-making and implementation. Experience has also shown that the involvement of those targeted for support can ensure that the activities are relevant and appealing.
Partners should set out to run their Development Partnership in a way that enables all the partners to play a full role at every stage. Those involved on the ground in the partnership's activities should have a say in the decision-making. Consideration should also be given to ways of involving those targeted for support to ensure that their needs and aspirations are fully reflected in the activities which are planned.
Transnational co-operation is not an 'added extra' in EQUAL. Working with other countries is crucial to the Initiative's success. All Development Partnerships must have at least one partner from another Member State and, in most cases, this will be another EQUAL funded partnership. Development Partnerships may also co-operate with counterparts outside the European Union, for example, in candidate countries under the Phare programme.
Transnational co-operation requires time and commitment. For this reason, all Development Partnerships will be given sufficient time and resources to develop clear action plans (and budgets) for their work with partners in other countries. Support will also be available for those Development Partnerships who want help in finding transnational partners.
EQUAL will provide support for pioneering ways of tackling inequality and discrimination at work, and in access to work. The Innovation may be a new approach or involve the transfer of elements from elsewhere. From the experience of ADAPT and EMPLOYMENT, innovative action is likely to result in one or more of the following changes: new processes or methods; new targets; changes in systems.
The way the Development Partnership is formed and works together may also be innovative.
Dissemination and mainstreaming
EQUAL is a testing ground. It aims to analyse the causes of discrimination and inequality in relation to the world of work and to propose new ways of tackling them. If EQUAL's work is to change the way things are done in the future, there must be an organised sharing of experience and results with those who stand to benefit the most from them, in particular policy-makers, the social partners and those involved in other partnerships. Development Partnerships will be required to be involved in this process.
At national level, Member States will set up arrangements to identify the factors leading to good practice and to share the results of activities undertaken by Development Partnerships.
A distinctive feature of EQUAL is the importance of co- operation between Member States and the European Commission. There will be a range of activities aimed at ensuring EQUAL has a maximum impact at the European level.
Applying for funding
A Development Partnership will be selected on the basis of its application in response to a national call for proposals. The national selection criteria will include elements which are common across all Member States.
The application will have to present an outline strategy submitted jointly by at least two different types of partner. This will show the different kinds of partners who will be involved during the life of the partnership and what role they are to play. It will also explain why the partnership is being set up, and what it intends to do. The partners will need to set out a detailed action plan for the initial period of funding (around six months), and an outline of the main types of activities planned thereafter. If the partnership is selected, this initial period of funding will provide time for them to find transnational partners, consolidate the national Development Partnership and firm up their detailed work programme. All of these aspects will have to be in place before moving on to the implementation phase.
Financial participation of the EU
The EQUAL Initiative will be jointly financed by the Member States and the European Commission. The total contribution of the European Social Fund to EQUAL for the 2000 - 2006 period is EUR 2 847 million.
Following publication of the EQUAL Guidelines by the European Commission in May 2000, each Member State prepares a programme called a Community Initiative Programme for the way it intends to implement the Initiative. Each programme, including detailed criteria for the selection of Development Partnerships, has to be agreed with the European Commission. The first call for proposals by Member States can be expected in the first quarter of 2001. The Community Initiative EQUAL will run for the programming period 2000 - 2006.
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