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A new, stronger European Social Fund Plus

The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) is the EU’s main instrument for investing in people with the aim of building a more social and inclusive Europe.

The ESF Plus aims at supporting Member States to tackle the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, achieve high employment levels, fair social protection and a skilled and resilient workforce ready for the transition to a green and digital economy.  

The ESF Plus finances the implementation of the principles from the European Pillar for Social Rights through actions in the area of employment, education & skills and social inclusion.

On 30 May 2018, the Commission adopted its proposal regulating support from the European Social Fund Plus for the period 2021-2027.

To help repair the economic and social damage brought by the coronavirus pandemic, kick-start European recovery, and protect and create jobs, the European Commission proposed on 26 May 2020 a major recovery plan for Europe based on harnessing the full potential of the EU budget, amending the original ESF Plus proposal.

In July 2020, the EU leaders agreed on this recovery plan and the multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027, leading the way out of the crisis and laying foundations for a modern and more sustainable Europe.

In January 2021 the European Parliament and EU Member States in the Council reached the political agreement on the Commission's proposal for a Regulation on the ESF Plus.

The ESF Plus will be a key financial instrument to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, to support jobs and create a fair and socially inclusive society. It will also provide much needed resources to Member States for the recovery of our societies and economies after the coronavirus crisis.

The ESF Plus has a total budget of €88 billion (in 2018 prices). It will invest in people, creating and protecting job opportunities, promoting social inclusion, fighting poverty and developing the skills needed for the digital and green transition. It will also include a more ambitious requirement for investing in young people and addressing child poverty, as proposed by the Commission.

Under the political agreement, the ESF Plus will:

  • Invest in young people, who have been particularly hard hit by the socio-economic crisis following the coronavirus outbreak. Member States which are above the EU average rate of young people not in employment, education or training (the so-called “NEETs”, aged between 15-29 years) should devote at least 12.5% of their ESF Plus resources to help these young people find a qualification, or a good quality job. All other Member States must allocate an appropriate amount of their ESF Plus resources to targeted actions to support youth employment measures. The Commission is urging Member States to use this and other existing funding opportunities to further increase investments in youth employment measures.
  • Support the most vulnerable suffering from job losses and income reductions: Member States will have to allocate at least 25% of their ESF+ resources to promote social inclusion.
  • Provide food and basic material assistance to the most deprived, by integrating in the ESF+ the current Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD). All Member States will devote at least 3% of their ESF+ resources to this aim.
  • Invest in children who have suffered the effects of the crisis. Member States with a level of child poverty above the EU average should use at least 5% of their ESF Plus resources to address this issue. All other Member States must allocate an appropriate amount of their ESF Plus resources to targeted actions to combat child poverty and the Commission is urging Member States to use this and other existing funding opportunities to further increase investments in the fight against child poverty.
  • Directly support social innovation, social entrepreneurship and cross border labour mobility, through the new Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) strand of the ESF Plus with a dedicated financial envelope of €676 million. EaSI will support analytical activities, capacity building and transnational/cross-border cooperation to strengthen social protection and social inclusion, fair working conditions, equal access to the labour market,  and to enhance labour mobility. EaSI calls for proposals will be published on the Funding and Tenders Portal.

Next steps

Following the political agreement, the European Parliament and the Council will have to formally approve the ESF Plus Regulation for its entry into force.

The EU's long-term budget, coupled with NextGenerationEU, the temporary instrument designed to boost Europe's recovery, will be the largest stimulus package ever financed through the EU budget. A total of €1.8 trillion (in 2018 prices) will help rebuild a post-COVID-19 Europe. It will be a greener, more digital and more resilient Europe.

The last step of the adoption of the next long-term EU budget was reached on 17 December 2020,  thus paving the way for the implementation of the new MFF.

For the Commission to start borrowing under NextGenerationEU, thus making the instrument operational, the ratification of the new Own Resources Decision by all Member States in line with  their constitutional requirements is still needed.

Background

The ESF Plus will be the EU's main instrument dedicated to investing in people. It aims to build a more social and inclusive Europe. It will support Member States in tackling the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and achieving high employment levels, fair social protection and a skilled and resilient workforce ready for the transition to a green and digital economy.

The ESF Plus thereby contributes to financing the implementation of the principles from the European Pillar for Social Rights through actions in the area of employment, education and skills and social inclusion.

Commission welcomes political agreement on the ESF+

European Pillar for Social Rights

Recovery plan and multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027

Amended proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+)