The aim of the Community initiative EQUAL is to promote new ways of combating all forms of discrimination and inequalities in the labour market on the basis of transnational cooperation and to facilitate the social and occupational integration of asylum seekers.
Communication from the Commission to the Member States of 14.04.2000 establishing the guidelines for the Community initiative EQUAL concerning transnational cooperation to promote new means of combating discrimination and inequalities in connection with the labour market [C(2000)853 - Official Journal C 127 of 05.05.2000].
The increasing interdependence of the Member States' economies led to a new employment chapter (Title VIII ) being incorporated in the Treaty of Amsterdam. This provides for the development of a European employment strategy and annual adoption of guidelines (2001) which the Member States are asked to take into account in their national policies.
The employment guidelines, which are transposed into national action plans (NAP) for each Member State, are based on four pillars:
- equal opportunities.
The European Union is also developing an integrated strategy to combat social exclusion and discrimination on grounds of sex or sexual orientation, race or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs and disability or age. There are policies and programmes in this area, particularly under Articles 13 (combating discrimination) and 137 of the Treaty (promoting social integration). The Community initiative EQUAL also helps to implement this strategy but is confined to action in the labour market.
The European Commission would like to build on the experience gained with the ADAPT and EMPLOYMENT programmes implemented in the period 1994-1999. For the period 2000-2006, it is therefore including EQUAL in the four new Community initiatives (along with INTERREG III, LEADER+ and URBAN II) presented in Regulation (EC) No 1260/1999 laying down general provisions on the Structural Funds.
The Member States and the Commission jointly cofinance EQUAL. Community funding comes exclusively from the European Social Fund (ESF) and amounts to 3.274 billion euros over seven years. The provisions in the general Regulation on the Structural Funds, especially those on varying the rates of participation by the Community depending on the geographical location of the activities, apply for the purposes of implementing EQUAL.
EQUAL is different from the Structural Funds' programmes under Objective 1, Objective 2 and Objective 3. It constitutes a permanent laboratory for experimentation in developing and disseminating new approaches for implementing employment policies to combat all manner of discrimination and inequalities, including those suffered by asylum seekers. Over time, innovative solutions which have proved to be effective will be disseminated to the authorities responsible so that they can integrate them in the main activities supported by the Structural Funds.
Each Member State presents to the Commission a Community initiative programme (CIP) in which it sets out its strategy and its arrangements for implementing EQUAL. Activities funded under the CIP are broken down into thematic areas and implemented in geographical or sectoral development partnerships. Transnational cooperation, through which added value accrues at European level, helps to foster exchanges of experience and good practice. Innovation is also an integral part of the Community initiative. It may be linked to the process (improvement of existing approaches, new methods and new tools), the aims pursued (objectives which help to identify new or promising qualifications and new sources of employment) or the context (new administrative or political structures and innovatory implementing systems).
The Member States base their EQUAL strategy on specific thematic areas under the four pillars of the employment guidelines (as well as that of "Asylum application"). These can be reviewed every two years in the light of developments in the labour market and are as follows.
- Pillar 1: employability
a) To ease access to the labour market for those who are having problems entering and returning to the labour market.
b) To combat racism and xenophobia at work.
- Pillar 2: entrepreneurship
c) To make it possible for anyone to start up a business by providing the tools necessary to do so and to identify new opportunities for employment in urban and rural areas.
d) To enhance the social economy (third sector) and especially services of public interest by concentrating on improving job quality.
- Pillar 3: adaptability
e) To promote lifelong learning and inclusive practices encouraging recruitment and stable employment for those suffering from discrimination or unequal treatment at work.
f) To foster the ability in enterprises and amongst workers to adapt to economic change and the use of new information technologies.
- Pillar 4: equal opportunities for men and women
g) To reconcile family and working life, and boost employment amongst women and men who have left work by developing more effective and flexible forms of organisation of work and personal services.
h) To reduce the gender pay gap and combat job segregation.
- Pillar 5: To help asylum seekers to integrate (Depending on their official status - an extremely complex matter approached in different ways in different Member States - assistance may consist of new ways of facilitating access to the job market or the provision of training for rejected asylum seekers before they leave the country.)
Depending on the national circumstances which determine where action is needed most, the Member States choose at least one area under each pillar (barring exceptions). Promoting equal opportunities for men and women forms an integral part of all the thematic areas chosen in addition to having specific actions reserved for it under Pillar 4.
Member States make provision for a minimum amount of action on behalf of asylum seekers, depending on their numbers, who they divide into three categories: 1) those whose applications are currently being examined by the Member State; 2) those who have been accepted under a relocation or humanitarian evacuation programme or under temporary protection arrangements and 3) those who have not been granted the status of refugees but who come under another form of protection (additional or subsidiary protection) because their personal circumstances prevent them from returning to their country of origin. In the European Union, the situation of asylum seekers is problematic. Access to the labour market is prohibited or subject to restrictive conditions. Action specifically for their benefit may take the form of sectoral development partnerships (action by all the relevant partners at national level to fund the integration of these persons) or geographic development partnerships (in an area where there is a relatively large number of asylum seekers). Action on behalf of asylum seekers constitutes the ninth thematic area of the EQUAL initiative in which development partnerships can take action.
Partnerships are an essential component in implementing EQUAL. Development partnerships, which are the ultimate beneficiaries of financial aid, bring together all the parties that are interested and have something to contribute: public authorities at national, regional or local level, local authorities, public employment services, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), enterprises and especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the social partners. All these players cooperate to draw up a strategy for action in each of the thematic areas mentioned above. Together they define and decide upon joint aims (empowerment principle) and seek innovative ways of combating inequality and discrimination.
The Member States define which of the following two types of partnership caters best for national circumstances:
- geographic development partnerships which bring together players in a specific geographical area
- sectoral development partnerships which cover a particular economical industrial sector and may also be geared to a specific target group.
As the ESF is the only Community fund supporting development partnerships, action eligible under other Structural Funds (ERDF, "guidance" section of the EAGGF, FIFG) may attract subsidies as long as they comply with the provisions of the Treaty, especially those concerning State aid.
ACTION TO BE FUNDED
EQUAL will support four different types of activity in each thematic area:
Action 1: setting up of development and transnational cooperation partnerships.
Action 1, which may not exceed 6 months, is intended to help to set up permanent and effective development partnerships and to ensure that transnational cooperation brings genuine added value.
This constitutes the main selection phase for obtaining funding under EQUAL. Development partnership initiators submit an application to the Member State covering the thematic area and geographical area/sector concerned, which must include: a list of partners and their capacity and role in the administrative and financial management of the planned action, a diagnosis of the problem to be dealt with, the aims to be achieved, a programme of work for Action 1 and the type of activities provided for under Action 2, and expectations with regard to transnational cooperation.
At the end of Action 1, the partnership will be able to present a joint strategy in the form of a genuine development partnership plan comprising at least: an ex ante evaluation of the situation with regard to exclusion and discrimination for the theme selected and the geographical area/sector concerned, a work programme and a realistic budget, clear identification of each partner's role (guidance, decision-making, management, administration and funding), a mechanism for permanent evaluation (collection and analysis of data based on indicators), a formal commitment to take part in Action 3 and a strategy for integrating equal opportunities.
As regards transnational cooperation, the development partnerships will cooperate with at least one partnership from another Member State, which will generally be a participant in EQUAL. In duly substantiated cases, cooperation may be extended to a similar structure of a non-Member State eligible for funding under the PHARE, TACIS or MEDA programmes.
Action 2: implementation of the development partnerships' work programme.
To receive the funding for implementing Action 2, each development partnership selected presents a development partnership agreement and a transnational cooperation agreement complying with the criteria mentioned under Action 1. These two documents must meet the following requirements: transparency (availability of the required co-funding, authorisation to manage public funds, acknowledgement that the results of the activities will remain in the public domain), representative capacity of the partnership, willingness and ability to participate in transnational cooperation activities (value-added expected, dissemination of results in national and European networks).
The work programme and the budget for Action 2 cover an initial period of 2 to 3 years which can be extended.
Action 3: thematic networking, dissemination of good practice and impact on national policy.
This is compulsory for all development partnerships and supports networking, dissemination and integration in employment and labour market policies. The development partnerships act either separately or in groups, depending on their expertise.
The Member States will set up mechanisms helping to integrate the partnerships' activities into combating discrimination and unfair treatment both at the level of organisations active in a similar sphere and at the level of regional or national policy, especially the NAPs and the Structural Funds.
These mechanisms are intended to: identify factors which cause inequality and discrimination and monitor and analyse the genuine or potential impact of development partnerships on target groups and the NAP priorities. They also pinpoint and evaluate factors which are conducive to good practice and will be disseminated at the end of Action 1.
Action 4: technical assistance.
Technical assistance will be designed to: make it easier to find partners and to consolidate partnerships for transnational cooperation (Action 1), collect, publish and disseminate experience and results, including annual development partnership reports (Action 2), support thematic networking, dissemination and setting up of mechanisms with a strong political impact (Action 3), and ensure cooperation in networking at European level and sharing of all relevant information with other Member States and the Commission.
Technical assistance will also support monitoring, auditing and assessment of activities both within the Member States and at European level.
Such assistance, which will account for a maximum of 8 % of the ESF's contribution to each Community initiative programme, will be provided by structures selected in a transparent process at national level.
DISSEMINATION AND EVALUATION AT EUROPEAN LEVEL
The Member States, the social partners and the Commission will cooperate to see that good practice in EQUAL feeds through into the European employment strategy. At European Union level, the Commission will make arrangements to assess the impact of Community action in three separate ways:
thematic examination at European Union level;
For each thematic area in the EQUAL initiative, the Commission will organise a series of evaluations of the partnership development groups. The results will be made public and will serve to underpin the assessments of policies within the framework of the European employment strategy and Community programmes set up under Articles 13 (combating discrimination) and 137 (promotion of social integration) of the Treaty.
The accession countries will be involved in discussing and utilising the results.
periodic assessment of the added value of EQUAL in relation to national action plans on employment;
The Commission will set up a database of good practice in EQUAL from activities under Action 3 and information collected from the development partnerships.
The Monitoring Committees of Objectives 1, 2 and 3 of the Structural Funds will have access to this information.
organisation of discussion forums at European Union level;
Each year, there will be a forum for debate and information feedback involving the European NGO social platform. The Commission will also organise meetings on more specific matters, such as transfer of good practice to the accession countries.
The ESF Employment and Management Committees shall be regularly informed of progress in implementing EQUAL.
External service providers chosen on the basis of calls for tender, the total value of which will not exceed 2 % of the ESF contribution, will carry out specific tasks helping to implement EQUAL and receive Community support accounting for 100 % of their total costs.
COMMUNITY INITIATIVE PROGRAMMES
In compliance with the programming principle laid down in the basic regulation on the Structural Funds and on the basis of their indicative financial allocations, the Member States will present to the Commission a draft Community initiative programme (CIP) for implementation of EQUAL within four months of publication in the OJ of this Communication.
Each CIP, which will take the form of a single programming document (DOCUP), will comprise a detailed description of the following components: the current situation with regard to discrimination and inequality in the labour market, an ex ante assessment of the impact expected on the socio-economic situation at local or sectoral level, an implementation strategy based on the selected priorities (with specific action for asylum seekers) and information activities, complementarity between this strategy and the national action plan, local employment pacts and other Community programmes, actions and methods conducive to equal opportunities for men and women, a summary of the lessons learnt from the ADAPT and EMPLOYMENT initiatives, arrangements for technical assistance required to implement the CIP, an indicative financing plan showing the envisaged ESF contribution and the expected public and private support, consultation process for all the partners in decision making, arrangements for monitoring, control and evaluation of the implementation of EQUAL (calls for proposals, contracts awarded to the final beneficiaries, integration in policies or mainstreaming, composition of the Monitoring Committee, collection of data and indicators necessary for permanent assessment).
Following a negotiation period of five months, the Commission will approve each CIP by means of a decision confirming allocation of a contribution from the ESF. An additional programming schedule is then added for each CIP.
For more information on the Structural Funds, please consult the EQUAL site of the Directorate-General of Employment and Social Affairs.