Last week, on the 28 of January, the European Parliament and the Council have reached a provisional agreement on the EU Social Fund Plus (ESF+), which will replace the current ESF by merging it with the existing Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD), the Employment and Social Innovation programme (EaSI).

According to the new deal, the ESF+ will amount to 87,995 billion Euro (2018 prices). This allocation, which represents a slight decrease from the initial proposal from May 2018 of 89,688 billion Euro, will be exceptionally compensated by the prolongation of the current ESF resources through money allocated in 2021 and 2022 through the React-EU facility, part of the EU response to the Covid19 pandemic.

Together with the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), the ESF+ will be the main instrument to finance inclusion of migrants and refugees, focusing mainly on long-term mainstream measures and access to employment and employability.

The deal is the product of a long negotiation, which saw the co-legislators entrenched with very diverging positions and views on the aim of the funds, with the Parliament calling for securing a strong social component through minimum percentages and the Council calling for wide flexibility on member states’ programming. As a result of the compromise, 25% of the whole amount of the fund will be earmarked for social inclusion, including socio-economic integration of third country nationals’. On top of this, a minimum of 3% of the fund will have to be allocated on food aid and basic material assistance to the most vulnerable groups.

In addition, the Parliament managed to secure a specific allocation to tackle child poverty, which will have to be included in all member states programmes, and will include a specific ringfencing of 5% for member states where the number of children at risk of poverty is above the EU average. Similarly, member states with above-average levels of youth unemployment will be obliged to spend at least 12,5% of their ESF+ resources on this group.  An additional article on the respect of Fundamental Rights, to emphasize that all operations should be selected and implemented in respect of the Charter of Fundamental Rights was also included.

The text of the regulation is not finalised yet and will need to go through a lengthy process which will still take a few months. A few technical meetings are still needed to finalise the text, which needs to be voted and approved by both the European Council and the Parliament in plenary. Only once the regulation is published the European Commission will start approving the national programmes prepared by EU member states.

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Photo: (CC) Alf Melin, April 2012

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.