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The ESF in the news

Cohesion funding impacts in a time of crisis

18/04/2013

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A new progress report reveals flexibility and accelerating participation in ESF actions and demonstrates the concrete results being achieved on the ground

On 18 April, the Commission presented a second strategic report on the progress of 2007-2013 cohesion policy programmes in the Member States. It draws together data from reports provided by the 27 Member States and gives an instructive snapshot of how cohesion policy programmes – including the ESF – are helping confront the consequences of the economic crisis and deliver sources of employment and growth.

At the onset of the crisis in 2008, the EU acted rapidly to mobilise the uptake of Structural Funding with a series of important measures. Reprogramming from one thematic area to another was made more flexible, and indeed the report finds that, by the end of 2012, some EUR 36 billion – or 11% of total funds – have been switched to support the most pressing needs. Examples of this are the recent targeted measures in countries worst affected by youth unemployment, which are aiming to support 780 000 young people and 53 000 SMEs.

Other anti-crisis measures include improved cash flow to managing authorities to kick off more projects more quickly; and the reduction of national co-financing for countries with the greatest budgetary shortfalls, thereby reducing the pressure on national finances while ensuring many badly needed investments in growth and job creation can continue. And these measures have helped employment: in Europe overall some 200 000 jobs have been created during the past two years, the majority in SMEs.

The ESF: a significant acceleration

Between 2009 and 2010, the annual number of participants in ESF projects rose from 10 to 15 million and this level is being maintained says the Commission report. Furthermore, from 2007 to 2010 alone, some 12.5 million people took part in actions supporting access to employment and 2.4 million went on to find work within six months – a significant achievement given the economic downturn. Over half of the participants were women (52%), in four countries even more than 60%.

Other important results for the ESF from the period 2007 -2011 include:

  • Measures are focusing on youth employment. 15 million young people benefited from ESF funding, accounting for more than 40% of participation in some countries. .
  • The ESF is allowing countries to address their particular needs. This is reflected in a very diverse profile of participants: nearly half of all participants have lower secondary education at most, rising to 60% in Germany, Greece and Malta where programmes targeted this group. At the same time, in Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia, 40% or more of participants had tertiary qualifications.
  • Social inclusion measures are helping protect the most disadvantaged, reaching 14.5 million people of whom 18% were particularly vulnerable in the labour market. The UK and Austria seem to achieve the best results for people with disabilities while ESF support for minorities and migrant groups is delivered successfully for instance in Cyprus, the Netherlands, Austria, and Latvia.
  • Reform efforts are being underpinned with new skills. Some 700 000 people have acquired new skills, notably civil servants, and Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary and Romania are implementing  programmes dedicated to the institution building needed for lasting structural reforms.

Conclusions

The strategic report finds clear evidence that Structural Fund programmes are achieving concrete results for growth and jobs across Europe. At the same time, it offers timely messages on the potential for future spending to make further contributions to sustainable economic recovery. Furthermore, the increased flexibility of cohesion programming – shown by the 11% reprogramming rate –ensures that programmes can be adapted to changing needs and priorities.

However, the report signals that there is more to do – significant results are still expected over the rest of this programming period. There are also lessons for the future: initial hold-ups show that Member States must swiftly adopt any necessary legislation to avoid investment delays to the 2014-2020 period; evaluation indicators need to be strengthened; and more results-oriented programming will enable better tracking of progress towards achieving goals.