The new ESF+: What's in it for cities and regions?
The workshop started with a presentation of the proposal for the new ESF+, followed by an overview of examples of how the ESF is currently implemented on the ground. It was then discussed what lessons can be learned for the next programming period.
Loris Di Pietrantonio, Head of Unit responsible for the ESF in the European Commission's Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion, gave an overview of the Commission proposal on the new ESF+. He underlined that the ESF+ was the EU's financing arm for implementing the standards of the European Pillar of Social Rights in all Member States. The proposal responds to a social challenge, a simplification challenge, and a budgetary challenge. Di Pietrantonio insisted that, despite budgetary restraints, the ESF's share within the European Structural and Investment Funds has increased to 27%. He also stressed that regional and local authorities play an important role in ESF +, as they provide the ingredients for the design, implementation and evaluation of the programmes.
Nathalie Sarrabezolles, President of the Finistère Council, France, and CoR member, reported on her experience of using the ESF on the ground, explaining that it is used for investments in social innovation projects such as mobility platforms in rural areas, the establishment of "health mediators" or the use of social inclusion clauses in public procurement. She emphasised that an important element for success was creating partnerships with other actors on the ground. The future ESF+ should make the regional and local approach and the issue of solidarity more visible. Moreover, in terms of social experimentation, structures that can take a risk in social innovation need to be better encouraged.
Catiuscia Marini, President of the PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions and President of the Umbria Region, Italy, emphasised that the debate about the future ESF+ was part of a broader debate about the need for a more social Europe, based on the principles of solidarity, equality and inclusion. In times of growing populism, ensuring strong social protection and access to quality jobs for all is an essential means of rebuilding citizens' confidence in the European project. She stressed that, in order to successfully tackle a wide range of local challenges, the future ESF + needs to be driven from the ground. The negotiations for the next Multiannual Financial Framework should allocate to cohesion policy, and in particular to the ESF, a budget commensurate to the many challenges at hand.
The discussions will feed into the CoR opinion on the new ESF +, drafted by PES Group member Susana Díaz Pacheco, President of the Andalusia Region, Spain, due for adoption at the CoR's December plenary session.
Take away message
The ESF should remain THE EU's human capital investment tool focused on promoting employment, integration and social inclusion. In times of growing populism, ensuring a strong social Europe for citizens in all regions is an important means of rebuilding their confidence in the European project. Its added value is highest when it builds on partnerships on the ground. Therefore, it should remain within the architecture of the European Structural and Investment Funds and be managed to the largest extent under shared management.
Catiuscia Marini: "The ESF is one of those instruments that can save the European project as a whole, because it constitutes Europe's truly human face. It must remain an integral part of European cohesion policy and continue to help territories to address the challenges of today and of the years to come."
Nathalie Sarrabezolles: "The European Social Fund is indispensable for carrying out social innovation projects in my constituency! We need to make sure that the regional and local approach and the solidarity dimension are more visible in the ESF + . All citizens in all Member States should benefit from it."
Loris Di Pietrantonio: "ESF + can only work with strong partnerships with cities and regions. It is them who provide the ingredients for the design, setting-up, implementation, and evaluation of the programmes."