To encourage steps forward in addressing long-term unemployment, the European Commission, along with the ESF Transnational Platform and ESF Flanders, is launching a project to help Member States with less developed approaches to addressing the issue of LTU by offering an exchange of knowledge with countries that have developed successful practices.
Signals of economic recovery in the European Union have been recorded, with raising numbers of people regaining paid work. But encouraging statistics on falling unemployment do not count for much with those who find themselves outside the labour market for more than a year. With currently about 10 million – 4% of the active population – being long-term unemployed (LTU), the European Union lacks the necessary measures to reintegrate them into the active workforce and to halt the expansion of poverty and social exclusion among the most vulnerable groups, such as the young, third country nationals and low-skilled workers.
A better activation approach to LTU is needed
Recent analyses by the European Commission show that support to the long-term unemployed is lacking in the majority of Member States. This is due to financial constraints that only amplify the negative effects of general dysfunctions in the ‘post-crisis’ labour market. Active labour market policies, such as registration with the public employment services, unemployment benefits and life-long learning, are in general still underfunded and do not target the long-term unemployed closely enough. In particular, they tend to overlook the need for individualised approaches and interinstitutional coordination. In contrast, countries that have invested in activating the unemployed – through individual skills assessments, training, unemployment benefits with strong job search requirements – have not only succeeded in preventing a surge in the numbers of the short-term unemployed, but have also managed to maintain low numbers of LTU. These countries also tend to be experiencing faster economic recovery.
While the need for action has been acknowledged in the EU’s policy guidelines for economic development under the European Semester, the Council of the European Union has issued specific recommendations on the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market. The recommendations encourage employment services and other social authorities in Member States to establish structured support for the LTU through individualised assessments, job integration agreements (between the client and the PES), guidance to encourage registration with the PES, and closer cooperation with employers.
New transnational ESF project on LTU
The European Social Fund plays an important role in developing measures to help the unemployed advance their employability potential. In the current programming period (2014-2020) at least 41% of ESF beneficiaries are unemployed, and a quarter of these are long-term unemployed. The European Commission has now launched a new two-year project to tackle long-term unemployment through transnational cooperation in the ESF. The project will be implemented in the framework of the ESF Transnational Platform and will develop tools for the better integration of the LTU into the labour market through more exchanges of information and practices.
Support packages on three themes
The project will set up three working groups combining experienced countries (‘donors) and less experienced countries (‘recipients’) to develop support packages that Member State agencies can use in three areas:
- developing ways to share a client’s history among different actors, to enable the single point of contact model to work;
- counselling and mentoring the LTU, so they make a success of their work placements and do not drop out;
- providing targeted guidance, work experience and vocational training to the most vulnerable groups among the LTU.
The working groups will collate and synthesise existing good practice to develop modular packages of measures, which will then be tailored to the circumstances of each recipient Member State. The tailoring will be overseen by national advisory bodies bringing together the public employment services, ministries, trade unions, employers and civil society supported by national experts. The measures will then be piloted and feasibility studies prepared.
The project will be supervised by the ESF Thematic Network on Employment in order to ensure the closest link with PES, employment ministries and stakeholders working for the unemployed. The Employment Thematic Network will provide the coordination of three meetings per year under the expert guidance of Eamonn Davern, who previously worked on this topic at the European Commission.
Common characteristics of project candidates
During the project’s call for participation, 37 applicants submitted examples of good practices, while 16 applicants expressed interest in implementing new practices in their countries. Under the theme of ‘shared case histories’ (theme 1) ‘donors’ (Belgium, Finland, Greece, Poland, Spain, UK and EU stakeholders) mainly proposed projects developing support systems of interlinked services and individualised training. The idea of training and individual coaching is also present in some of the projects proposed in theme 2 (placement sustainability) by Belgium, Finland, Greece, Spain and at EU level. For the third theme: targeted support for vulnerable groups, donors from Belgium, Finland, Greece, Spain and at EU level propose to apply these same methodologies to the needs of people with disabilities, older people, women and Roma. Among the countries that would like to improve their integration mechanisms for the long-term unemployed are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Poland Spain, Slovenia and Slovakia.
 Eurostat, latest data for 2016. Compared to 2013 and 2014 when LTU rates for the EU were about 5%, there is a slight trend of decrease in numbers of LTU in the last two years. http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=une_ltu_a&lang=en
 Commission Staff Working Document accompanying the document proposal for a Council Recommendation on the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market, European Commission, 2015, SWD(2015) 176 http://ec.europa.eu/social/BlobServlet?docId=14481&langId=en
 Council Recommendation of 15 February 2016 on the integration of the long-term unemployment into the labour market, The Council of the EU, 2016. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32016H0220%2801%29&qid=1456753373365
 Commission Staff Working Document SWD(2015) 176, European Commission, 2015, p. 25.