Brussels, 14 May 2008
Set up in 1957, the European Social Fund (ESF) is the oldest of the EU's Structural Funds pursuing cohesion policy. It is the European Union's main financial instrument for investing in people. It is devoted to promoting jobs and helps Member States make Europe's workforce and companies better equipped to face new, global challenges. In short:
Funding is spread across the Member States and regions, in particular those where economic development is less advanced.
It is a key element of the EU's strategy for Growth and Jobs targeted at improving the lives of EU citizens by giving them better skills and better job prospects.
Over the period 2007-2013 EUR 76 billion is being distributed to the EU Member States and regions to achieve its goals. This represents around 10% of the total budget of the European Union.
The European Employment Strategy (EES) brings together the 27 Member States to work at increasing Europe's capacity to create more good jobs and to provide people with the skills to fill them. It guides the ESF which spends European money on achieving these goals.
How does the ESF work?
The European Social Fund is based on the principles of co-financing and shared management.
The ESF does not fund projects directly from Brussels. ESF funding is available through the Member States and regions and each Member State or region - together with the European Commission - agrees on an Operational Programme for ESF funding for the 2007-2013 period. Operational Programmes set out the priorities for ESF intervention and their objectives.
Beneficiaries of ESF funding can be of many different types: public administrations, NGOs and social partners active in the field of employment and social inclusion, enterprises and other relevant stakeholders.
The ESF's resources are committed for seven years. Such financial continuity is crucial, since it offers projects the security they need to deliver their objectives, regardless of shifts in national priorities. European investment also draws in funding from other sources – on a 50-50 or sometimes even a 15-85 basis – such as from public authorities or industry.
The Commission has set out very clear guidelines on how national and regional authorities should draw up their Operational Programmes. The Commission has also put a strong emphasis on the need for a thorough assessment of the labour market and economic development needs of the areas covered by ESF programmes. Together this package represents a huge investment in the prosperity and labour market development of Europe.
As part of this process, the Commission has also encouraged decentralisation of decision-making and those drawing up plans to consult widely on their priorities for ESF. This should ensure a better match of funds to specific local and regional labour market problems.
Where does the money go and how is it helping people in Europe?
Some real examples:
What's new about the programming period 2007-2013?
For the period up to 2013 the ESF has adopted a ‘strategic’ approach, coordinating the work of the ESF with the other main strands of EU economic and social policy, including the ‘Lisbon agenda’ for growth and jobs, and the European Employment Strategy. This will ensure that money is targeted towards the same overall – and vital – European objectives.
The new generation of ESF is also concentrating resources on the areas where it can make the most impact in achieving those objectives.
Finally, the rules governing the ESF have been simplified. Following Member States’ and project promoters’ concerns that the system was too complicated in the past, the division of responsibilities between the EU and national authorities has been clarified. This means that Member States have greater flexibility in choosing their priorities and targeting ESF resources towards their own specific problems and conditions. There is no single EU way of doing things and the Commission respects Member States’ right to choose their own methods for achieving common objectives.
How to find out more about the ESF?
Member State authorities are responsible for the ESF in each country. For
specific national information, find the national ESF contacts at:
The ESF website on Europa provides more information as well as an interactive map with funding areas and programme details per region.