The European Commission has put forward a proposal to develop a new instrument - the Programme for Social Change and Innovation (PSCI) - which will support employment and social policies throughout the EU.
The new programme will be used to help tackle some of the EU’s most pressing issues, such as high unemployment rates, poverty and social exclusion, and the ageing population.
The PSCI will integrate three existing Commission-managed programmes: PROGRESS, the programme for employment and social solidarity; EURES, which delivers European employment services; and the European Progress Micro-finance Facility.
Bringing these three instruments together under one umbrella will increase their effectiveness and allow the Commission to improve policy coherence across the board. The new-set up will also ensure that employment and social policies make an even greater contribution to Europe 2020, the EU’s overarching strategy for economic growth.
In addition to strengthening policy coordination, capacity building and the sharing of best practice, the PSCI will make it possible to test innovative actions. The ultimate aim is for the most successful of these pilots to be “up-scaled” and receive financial backing from the European Social Fund (ESF), which provides finance to projects that support employment and social integration in the regions.
The PSCI forms part of the Commission’s proposed legislative package for EU regional, employment and social policy for the period 2014-2020 (including the European Social Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund). The package was formally adopted in October 2011 and its overall aim is to ensure that EU investments are channelled in an optimal manner in order to boost jobs and growth.
The Council and the European Parliament are set to discuss the Commission's legislative proposals with a view to adoption by the end of 2012. Approval would see the PSCI up and running in 2014, with a total budget of 958 million EUR for 2014-2020, of which 60% will be allocated to PROGRESS, 15% on EURES and 20% on microfinance. A degree of flexibility has been provided for in the form of a 5% reserve.
If the PSCI gets the green light, PROGRESS will continue with its current work, which is to support the development of EU policy in the areas of employment, social integration, working conditions, anti-discrimination and gender equality. But there will also be a specific budget for “social innovation and experimentation” to allow innovative policies to be tested on a small scale and for the most successful of these to be upscaled at a later stage by being "incorporated" into the ESF. Some EUR 97 million (i.e. 17% of the PROGRESS budget) will be dedicated to these "experimental" projects between 2014 and 2020.
The PSCI promises to strengthen EURES in a number of ways. EURES activities at national and cross-border level will receive ESF funding to support worker mobility and help companies recruit abroad. The EURES jobs portal will be able to offer new “self-service” tools to jobseekers and employers. PSCI backing will also allow EURES to develop new mobility schemes including the pilot project, “Your first EURES job”.
The European Progress Micro-finance Facility was launched in 2010 to make it easier for people wishing to set up or develop small businesses to access the necessary financing. The Facility does not transfer the money (up to EUR 25 000 in loans) directly to entrepreneurs, but instead helps selected micro-credit providers to increase their lending.
PSCI will extend support to these credit providers, fund the capacity building efforts of micro-finance institutions and provide investment to develop and expand social enterprises (which focus on social objectives rather than profit).
The ‘Your First EURES Job’ scheme, set to become operational from the beginning of 2012, is a very good example of the kind of pilot action the PSCI will support. The project aims to make it easier to fill those jobs for which it is difficult to find workers (‘bottleneck vacancies’) across Europe. The scheme will match a young person interested in doing a work placement in another Member State with a business looking for young employees. The scheme will be to the benefit of both parties as it will provide young people aged 18-30 with job opportunities abroad to develop their careers, while supplying employers with a young, skilled and mobile workforce. Financial support will also be available for both young jobseekers and employers (mainly small and medium-sized enterprises).