Speech at extraordinary meeting with managing authorities of the ESF and FEAD in the contexte of the refugee crisis
Ladies and gentlemen,
The true spirit of the European Union lies in the values and principles upon which it was built; the fostering of a cohesive and inclusive society is one such founding principle. The European Social Fund and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived are key instruments in delivering this.
Indeed, the European Social Fund helps to improve their lives of millions of people in Europe each year by investing in their training and skills to help them find better jobs. Recently complemented with the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived, it is our main instrument for investing in people and fighting inequality and social disadvantage.
As our partners who manage these two Funds on the ground, you know first-hand the impact they have on improving the employment chances and supporting the integration of the most disadvantaged people in our society. You also witness the serious economic and social challenges that we face as a result of the protracted economic crisis; Unemployment in the EU has dropped but still stands at 9.5%. One in four people in the EU are still at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
The challenges we face have exponentially grown, as the ongoing refugee crisis is escalating into a humanitarian one. Already this year, over 500,000 people seeking refuge have made their way to Europe - and many more are expected. The vast majority are fleeing war in Syria, the terror of Islamic State in Libya or dictatorship in Eritrea. Member States on the external borders of our Union have been most affected – in terms of numbers, but many others are also struggling to cope.
Migration was already one of the 10 political priorities of the Juncker Commission. As a response to the refugee crisis the Commission has reacted rapidly and timely with a comprehensive and balanced migration agenda that we presented on May 13th. However it is clear that migration is not just the responsibility of a handful of Member States. It is the responsibility of Europe as a whole. Solidarity between Member States is needed to solve the problem. We have proposed action in two strands.
First in order to put an end to migrant smuggling and to stem the root causes of irregular migration, we need to make sure that our return policy is implemented and that our external borders are secure.
Second we must provide protection to the people who are in clear need of it; the ones fleeing from war and persecution. For these people we need to act here and now, to help them integrate into our societies and labour markets.
However, in meeting these objectives, we must not lose sight of the unemployed or vulnerable people in Europe, who are equally in need of our support, but not in the limelight: Nor can we ignore the fact that many of our Member States are under tight budgetary constraints. Money is an issue and this is why we need to make sure that the EU Funds are responsibly, effectively and efficiently spent.
As part of our migration agenda to help the Member States respond to the most immediate needs of asylum seekers, such as for housing, supplies and services, the Commission launched a Communication on Public Procurement rules for Refugee Support Measures. This Communication provides guidance for national, regional and local authorities on how to ensure compliance with EU law while procuring these services in a simple, speedy and non-bureaucratic manner.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Now is the time for joint action to overcome a common challenge. Your role here is crucial. This is why I have called this meeting today:
- To see what, from your experience, can be learnt, rolled out and replicated elsewhere;
- To exchange views on the best use of the European funds;
- But also, to hear from you how the Commission can better support you.
Indeed, it is my conviction that there is much room to learn from each other, and there is a real need for improvement.
The figures also point to that. For example:
- In 2012 and 2013, the unemployment rate of non- EU citizens was 22% - double that of EU nationals.
- Across the EU, 18% of third country nationals aged 25-34 have very low levels of education.
- 39% of third country households live in poverty and risk of being secluded in ghetto-type neighbourhoods.
The ESF is working to change this, investing in many successful projects across Europe. Such projects provide valuable policy lessons and inspiration for other national, regional or local contexts to improve outreach and support to disadvantaged populations:
For example, in Berlin: a vocational training ESF project more than doubled the number of young learners from migrant backgrounds. This training, combined with career advice served to guide their integration into the jobs market.
Or in Austria: first-generation migrants were given the skills and confidence they need to find their proper place in the labour market. Some 100 young migrants benefitted from personalised counselling - tailored to their needs - and enhancing employability.
Meanwhile a funded project in Cyprus targeted migrants who did not possess the required language skills to ensure their equal participation in the labour market. Nearly twelve-and-a-half thousand people benefitted from the training – enhancing their political, cultural and social participation in Cyprus, as well as their chances of finding a job.
Also in my own country, Belgium, the ESF-funded project Eminenta set up a one-stop-shop to help find high-skilled migrants an appropriate job opportunity. It offered individualised services for both employers and potential employees and 65% of the migrants that received active coaching found a job.
These examples demonstrate the impact that the optimal use of EU funds can have in supporting the integration of disadvantaged communities – including migrants and refugees. As a general rule, asylum seekers can only be supported by the ESF provided they are legally able to participate in the labour market.
However, Member States must ensure that asylum seekers have access to the labour market at the latest within 9 months from the date when they apply for international protection. I am happy to see that some member states allow asylum seekers to integrate in the labour market earlier and that some member states proposed amendments to allow for this.
In the meantime, these people can be allowed access to vocational training, and children of applicants and applicants who are minors are to be granted access to the education system. This is with the view to fulfilling the overall objective of the Social Fund: to improve the employment opportunities of all people in the European Union.'
Concretely, and immediately, ESF investments can support vocational training; counselling; access to health and social services; campaigns to combat discrimination.
Many migrants have valuable skills that Europe needs. Improving the recognition of skills and qualifications gained outside Europe will also help support their faster integration into the labour market and reduce the risk of deepening social exclusion. I realise this is not easy, but we will try to address this issue as part of our skills agenda.
Migrants and other disadvantaged groups can equally benefit from other general education and employment measures with the support of the ESF. For example, measures to promote equal access to good quality early childhood, primary and secondary education or gender equality. We should be aware of the gender dimension of this crisis, and seek to provide safety and support to counter the risk of sexual and gender-based violence against women and unaccompanied children.
FEAD can also provide support to refugees. Member States can choose to define refugees as a target groups to receive assistance both in the early stages after their arrival in the Union, and later. The Commission is here to support Member States who choose this approach.
One additional point I would like to stress is the need to ensure coherence and complementarity at national level in the use of all EU instruments. Here, again, your input is invaluable.
For example, while the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund plays a major role in the initial steps of migrant integration, the FEAD and ESF quickly kick in after. This is why it is important to make the most of the synergies to facilitate a successful integration. Furthermore, I would like to draw your attention to a project that the European Parliament is set to finance in coming weeks. The project is to be managed by the International Organization for Migration and will finance a series of training and peer mentoring activities for front-line staff of local authorities, and NGOs dealing with the specific needs and situations of refugees.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I have said, you are best placed to identify and help share solutions that can have a real impact on the ground. The Commission, for its part, stands ready to cooperate closely with you and strengthen its support in order to tackle any constraints in implementation of measures for migrants under the Funds.
We are exploring all options to optimise the use of funds, taking account of established good practice on the ground. The Commission stands ready to work closely with you to facilitate this process and ensure a swift adoption of such amendments in an accelerated procedure.
This message I am going to convey also to the EPSCO Ministerial council on 5th October. In this context I will report to the Ministers about the main outcomes of our meeting today.
Today's meeting reaffirms our will to act and our joint commitment to overcome this unprecedented challenge.
Together we must carefully assess all possibilities that allow the flow of the limited, yet much-needed funding to address the unprecedented challenges of the current crisis. I am convinced that together we will be able to provide an appropriate response to the ongoing refugee crisis, making the best use of all European and national funds available.