By Giacomo Manca, Policy Officer (ECRE & PICUM) – EU Funding for Inclusion.

On Thursday 27 May, the European Commission has presented a long-awaited financial recovery plan to address the economic crisis caused by the pandemic that Europe is currently facing.

The proposal includes “Next Generation EU”, a short-term temporary reinforcement “bazooka” of € 750 billion for the EU budget to be allocated to the member states most affected by the crisis, but also represents a new start in the negotiations for the next long term EU budget, as it was presented with an updated proposal for the multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021 – 2027.

“Next Generation EU” aims at extending the EU budget with temporary ‘own resources’ raised by the EU in the financial markets and will be composed of a number of instruments. Among these, the REACT-EU initiative will keep financing the current cohesion policy for the next two years – combining the existing instruments (ESF, ERDF, Cohesion Fund) with the new programmes, to ensure that funding can continue without interruption. This will include among others, the Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD), whose regulation will be extended for two additional years until 2022, allowing funding for the support of the most deprived to keep delivering in challenging times. The FEAD, which supports member states in providing food and material aid as well as ‘accompanying measures’ of social inclusion, is one of the few resources which are eligible also for supporting undocumented migrants, and represents a key instrument to provide  basic support to those who have lost all sources of income and cannot count on social protection.

At the moment it remains unclear to what extent the gigantic proposal which should ‘power the European recovery’ will provide an opportunity to enhance the inclusivity of our societies towards refugees and migrants, among the vulnerable groups most affected from the economic consequences of the pandemic.

The 2018 proposal of the Commission aimed at mainstreaming migrants’ integration through diverse financial instruments, including the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Erasmus +, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), as well as the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). As the resources for many of these programmes will increase, it will depend on member states to invest in the integration of third country nationals residing in the EU.

For the ESF+, which is supposed to be the main instrument to mainstream integration of third country nationals in employment, education and social services, the numbers included in this week’s proposal foresees  a reduction to € 86.28 billion from the € 89.69 billion in 2018 (allocations are expressed in 2018 prices). A clear endorsement is given to the Parliament’s proposal of a Child Guarantee within the ESF+, where an earmarking of 5% is suggested to help reduce child poverty. Additionally, it is not clear which part of the resources, within the REACT-EU instrument, will feed the existing European Social Fund (ESF), which will keep running for two more years in parallel to the new programme. Other instruments, such as the ERDF and the EAFRD will also receive a top up under the NextGenerationEU.

Surprisingly, an increase of funding  is proposed for the Asylum and Migration Fund (AMF, former AMIF), meaning that funding in these areas is not compromised as a result of higher expenditure in Cohesion and Agriculture (AMF proposal goes up to € 11billion from the € 9.205 billion proposed in 2018). A similar increase is suggested for the Integrated Border Management Fund (IBMF). As the communication only concerns overall commitments and the proposed regulations from 2018 have not been updated so far, it is still unpredictable to which of the different priorities of the funds the money will go. Therefore, it is not possible to say whether this initiative alone represents good news for the development of European asylum and integration systems.

The proposal does not address the risk of a lack of agreement among EU Member States and between the Council and the European Parliament. The timeline is ambitious with an adoption of the budget before the end of 2020, enabling the next MFF to start in 2021, despite the formal request of the European Parliament, approved in its plenary of 13 May, calling for a contingency plan to extend all the regulations of the current MFF for a year.

Before the end of the year, member states will have to agree on this proposal or find a compromise on a different one. Considering the sceptical reception of the proposal by the ‘frugal four’ (AT, DK, NL, SE), the risk of a non-approval for the next EU budget is very real.

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ECRE publishes op-eds by commentators with relevant experience and expertise in the field who want to contribute to the debate on refugee rights in Europe. The views expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect ECRE positions.


Photo: (CC) Alf Melin, April 2012

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