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Thematic Networks complete their first round of meetings


Social Economy Network Meeting
© European Union

Between November and February, the nine transnational networks of ESF Managing Authorities and stakeholders held their first meetings. On average 10 Member States attended each meeting, with 23 Member States taking part overall. Though NGOs are keen to have a voice, the social partners have been slower to join in.

In the 2014-2020 programming period, the European Commission is supporting nine Thematic Networks which will enable ESF Managing Authorities and stakeholders such as employers, trade unions and NGOs to learn from each other and to co-ordinate their work.

These Thematic Networks have two main tasks: to co-ordinate calls for proposals in their theme, and to carry out mutual learning activities. As regards calls for proposals, the precise timing and conditions have yet to be decided. However there is a strong trend of convergence around the common terms of reference, which provide that project applications should close on 30th September 2016, and projects should start work in January 2017. The trend is that Managing Authorities will issue one combined transnational call, covering all the themes they wish to support. This gives project promoters the widest scope to make partnerships with projects abroad working in different themes.

As regards mutual learning, five of the networks have already chosen their priority topics, and some of them have already decided concrete activities:

  • The Social Economy network is to hold per review meeting on financial instruments in Warsaw on 19-20 May, and also to meet at the conference organised in Slovakia during its EU presidency in November;
  • The Governance network attended a seminar organised by the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) in Amsterdam in February, and has a study visit to Scotland in store;
  • The Simplification network is creating a ‘Practical Travel Guide’, comprising a dictionary, a stakeholder map and a map of practices and experiences with simplified cost options (SCOs).

Other networks have been slower to develop firm plans, as they have had to contend with a wide range of experience, expertise and preparedness among participants, which has meant that they have put more effort into the initial relationship-building and structuring phase.

The table below summarises the current state of progress:

Thematic Network

Lead MS


Priorities for mutual learning




  • transition long-term unemployment -> work
  • transition work -> work incl. self-employment




integrated approaches to:

  • active inclusion
  • access/modernisation of social services
  • discrimination & support for marginalised groups

Youth employment



  • mobility
  • NEETs (those not in  education, employment or training)

Learning & skills




Social economy



  • financial instruments
  • measuring social value








  • practical tools







  • different approaches/models of integration
  • awareness-raising
  • impact of the wider policy framework
  • labour market access
  • skills recognition
  • funding

Web conferencing works

To save time and increase efficiency, the networks are encouraged to use web conferencing where this is appropriate. The first network to try this technique was Learning and Skills which held a two-hour session on co-ordinated calls for proposals on 9th March. Though some participants faced teething troubles with the software, afterwards most agreed it had been a useful and enjoyable experience.

It is important that what the networks do is informed by what is going on in each country taking part, and that people implementing the ESF on the ground gain the benefit of the learning that takes place. Member States are therefore encouraged to establish national ESF networks, or to use existing networks to collect inputs and disseminate results widely.