We should make the case for the European Social Fund (ESF) by highlighting examples of its beneficial impact on employment and social cohesion, said László Andor, Commissioner for Employment from 2010 to 2014, in his keynote speech at the ESF Transnational Platform seminar in June.
Professor Andor, now head of the Department of Economic Policy at Corvinus University of Budapest, argued that it is especially important to showcase the ESF’s impact at a time of ongoing discussions on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which will shape future EU spending.
He cited a “remarkable project” just outside Rome, which was supporting balanced work and family life by providing new facilities and working arrangements. He also highlighted a social services centre in Sofia established to support a disadvantaged community made up of many Roma people. “Without [this centre] the people living in the district would have lacked medical coverage and various other services,” he said.
Other examples included a project in Manchester to facilitate offenders’ reintroduction into the labour market, a restaurant in Kraków that is staffed by those with disabilities, and a Portuguese initiative that is modernising vocational training. “This small sample of ESF projects should be highlighted to the wider public, to show what the European Union can do and what would probably not happen without ESF intervention”, he said. He cautioned that if you don’t make the case for funding, “you risk losing it”.
Local access to funds
The focus should be on “maintaining, enhancing and improving” the ESF, particularly at a time when some of the smaller EU funds appear to be “under attack” by Member States. Nevertheless, he welcomed the fact that the downward trend of funding for ESF has been reversed in recent years, thanks to the introduction of the minimum share principle. “Quite a few Member States have allocated significantly more to the ESF than was absolutely necessary”.
It is a challenge to maintain the integrity of the European Social Fund by stamping out abuse. “In my view, the right way to tackle this problem is to sideline problematic actors,” he said. “And for that you have to empower local bodies to manage migration and integration.” He added that local actors and cities should be given more freedom in accessing EU funding and proposed that local taskforces be set up to manage the European Social Fund.