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Mr. László ANDOR
Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
"The future of the ESF: supporting the EU 2020 strategy"
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Conference on "Future of the ESF" – Charlemagne Building
Brussels, 23 June 2010
Dear Ms Bérès,
Dear Ms Rojo Torrecilla,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to this high level conference on the future of the European Social Fund.
This conference arrives at a particularly opportune moment.
Just a few days ago, European leaders have agreed on the EU's new Strategy for next decade: Europe 2020.
In the autumn, the Commission will present several initiatives to prepare the ground for future European programmes:
First, in September, the budget review paper where the Commission will present its views on future European policies and instruments;
Second, in November, the Fifth cohesion report which will set out general orientations for the future of cohesion policy and instruments after 2013.
The discussions you will have, the ideas you will put forward, and the suggestions you will make today and tomorrow will all play a role in shaping the future of the ESF.
This is why this conference is so important.
Our Europe 2020 strategy makes it clear what kind of growth we need: smart growth, sustainable growth and inclusive growth. Employment and social inclusion are at the heart of the strategy.
Europe 2020 key priorities are translated into the Commission Work Programme. We have also presented a proposal for new Guidelines for economic and employment policies.
I am pleased that the European Heads of State have broadly supported the proposed guidelines, confirming their political endorsement at their meeting last Friday.
I look forward to the Opinion of the European Parliament, which will be an important step before the final adoption of these Integrated Guidelines. We are also grateful for the opinions from the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The current economic and social situation in Europe will have an impact on our discussions today. We have gone through an unprecedented economic crisis. We have seen its repercussions in the fiscal and monetary fields. We have seen a steep rise in unemployment – which is expected to reach 11% by the end of the year.
At the same time we must not lose sight of the long-term challenges we face. Challenges such as an ageing population, rapidly-changing technologies, climate change and other environmental challenges all have to be addressed.
The sheer size of the task ahead of us makes it clear that no-one can or should shoulder the burden alone.
Responsibility for employment and social policy lies mainly with the Member States. But let us not forget that the Treaty also gives us responsibilities in these areas: the EU has a role to play in assisting the Member States and making good use of all the instruments available.
It is fair to say that the ESF has made a very valuable contribution to the Lisbon Strategy in the last ten years, and many of you have actively contributed to this.
However, we must ask ourselves if we have made full use of its potential.
We must think about how to use the ESF to support the implementation of Europe 2020. And we must reflect on a number of key issues for the future of the ESF.
I see five such key issues:
First, on the added value.
I believe that ESF actions should contribute to the achievement of EU policy objectives. The ESF should be FULLY aligned with the Europe 2020 strategy. This would reinforce ownership and partnership among the actors concerned – in the Member States, as well as at European level.
Furthermore, we should turn towards a more results-oriented approach. Several options could be pursued here.
Support could be made conditional on structural reforms, achievements and the quality of outcomes and payments. Performance reserves at EU level or at national level could underpin such an approach.
I invite you to reflect on the following question: "How to achieve greater and better results?"
The second question is about the scope of the ESF. In other words: what to do and what not to do?
To start, I think that the principles of non-discrimination and gender mainstreaming should continue to be fundamental elements in the future ESF.
Several other horizontal issues need to be discussed, including the role of innovation, the added value of trans-nationality, and the support to administrative capacity building.
In addition, we need to strengthen co-operation with all possible stakeholders: the institutional stakeholders, the regional and local administrations, the social partners, the NGOs, but also the private sector.
We should also reflect about how to improve the assessment of the impact generated by the ESF, which will in turn help us to determine what the ESF should do (and not do).
The question here is to know what role the different stakeholders and in particular the Commission should play?
Third, the geographical scope of the ESF.
It is safe to assume that the EU budget for the period post-2013 will be limited.
This could be an argument in favour of concentrating the ESF on those Member States with the highest needs.
This being so, I believe that the EU needs instruments that reach out directly to citizens – everywhere in the EU.
Every year millions of citizens benefit from the ESF throughout the EU. This should continue in the future.
But, if the ESF operates everywhere, should it do the same everywhere?
The fourth question is about the delivery modes of the ESF.
Many stakeholders take the view that the current system is too complicated, bureaucratic and burdensome. The new delivery systems need to be simpler, more efficient and more flexible.
But how can we achieve this?
I see two possible approaches.
The first one is to continue with the on-going work on simplification.
The second one is to look at a more radical departure from the current situation. We could reassess the basis on which payments are carried out. We could look at how to ensure compliance with the regulations and the different forms of strategic planning and programming.
In addition, the future ESF could promote financial engineering to provide the missing link between the financial markets and employment and inclusion policies.
Finally, the question about the relation between the ESF and the other EU instruments.
The key consideration here is that instruments should serve policies, not the other way round. Coordination should therefore be first and foremost at the level of the policies.
I think it is clear that the ESF should contribute to economic, social and territorial cohesion. In that context, the issue of the complementarity with the other cohesion policy instruments, and primarily the European Regional Development Fund, needs to be closely examined.
The ESF is the EU's main financial instrument to support structural reforms in the fields of employment, education and training. It is an essential thematic instrument. As such, we also need to strengthen complementarity with other human capital instruments, in particular the lifelong learning programme and its mobility strands.
These are just some of the issues open to debate – and I am sure that each of you has identified other equally important points.
I hope however, that I have given you some food for thought.
This conference is an opportunity to listen and to learn from each other.
In this spirit, I look forward to our discussions.
And let's meet tomorrow to draw the conclusions of what - I am sure - will be fruitful discussions!