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In 2007 a new programming period for the structural Funds with 27 member states, including two other new member states of Romania and Bulgaria, started. The new regulations on the Structural Funds introduce some of the biggest changes in the operation of the Structural Funds for more than a decade. Especially, the highest concentration ever of resources on the poorest Member States and regions, the inclusion of all regions and a shift in priorities set to boost growth, jobs and innovation, are essentially the major changes to EU Cohesion Policy during the new programming period.

The connection between the European Social Fund and the policy framework, European Employment Strategy included, are being reinforced so that the ESF can contribute more effectively to the employment objectives and targets of the ‘Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs”.

The ESF is designed to foster balanced economic and social development in order to support national policies promoting full employment, improved quality and productivity at work and reduced social exclusion and regional employment disparities.

The ESF funding is disbursed under two Structural Funds objectives: "Convergence", and "Regional competitiveness and employment".

The “convergence objective” aims to stimulate growth and employment in the least developed regions. It highlights innovation and the knowledge-based society, adaptability to economic and social changes and the quality of the environment and administrative efficiency.

The regional competitiveness and employment objective” covers all the areas of the European Union not eligible for the convergence objective. It aims to reinforce the regions’ competitiveness and attractiveness as well as employment, by anticipating economic and social changes.

Within the framework of the “Convergence” and “Regional Competitiveness and Employment” objectives, the ESF provide support actions for improving employment and job opportunities, encouraging a high level of employment and more and better jobs under the following priorities:

  • Increasing adaptability of workers, enterprises and entrepreneurs, in a view of improving the anticipation and positive management of economic change, in particular by promoting:
    • Lifelong learning and increased investment in human resources by enterprises
    • The development of qualifications and competence
    • The dissemination of information and communication technologies, e-learning, eco-friendly technologies and management skills
    • The fostering of entrepreneurship and innovation and business start-ups
    • The design and dissemination of innovative and more productive forms of work organisation.
  • Enhancing access to employment and the sustainable inclusion in the labour market of job seekers and inactive people, preventing unemployment, in particular long-term and youth unemployment, particularly by:
    • Promoting the modernisation and strengthening of labour market institutions
    • Fostering the implementation of active and preventive measures ensuring the early identification of needs with individual action plans and personalized support as well as flexible measures to keep old workers in employment longer and measures to reconcile work and private life.
    • Mainstreaming and specific action to increase the sustainable participation and progress of women in employment and reduce gender-based segregation in the labour market
    • Specific action to increase the participation of migrants in employment and thereby strengthen their social integration and to facilitate geographic and occupational mobility of workers
  • Reinforcing the social inclusion of disadvantaged people with a view to their sustainable integration in employment, combating all forms of discrimination and facilitating their access to the labour market, by promoting :
    • pathways to integration and re-entry into employment for disadvantaged people, such as people experiencing social exclusion, early school leavers, minorities, people with disabilities and people providing care for dependent persons.
    • acceptance of diversity in the workplace and the combating of discrimination in accessing and progressing in the labour market.
  • Enhancing investment in the human capital by promoting the design and introduction of reforms in education and training systems in order to develop employability, the improvement of the labour market relevance of initial and vocational education and training and the continual updating of the skills of training personnel with a view to innovation and a knowledge-based economy.
  • Promoting partnerships, pacts and initiatives through networking of relevant stakeholders such as social partners and non-governmental organizations, at the transnational, national regional and local levels in order to mobilize for reforms in the field of employment and labour market inclusiveness.

Under the "Convergence" objective, in the least prosperous regions, the ESF will also support: 

  • Efforts to expand and improve investment in human capital, with reforms of education and training systems, greater participation in education and lifelong learning as well as developing human potential through research and innovation.
  • Boosting institutional capacity and efficiency of public administrations and public services, at national, regional and local level with a view to reforms, better regulation and governance.

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