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“Together with the other Structural and Cohesion Funds, the ESF transforms the meaning of Europe’s values and solidarity into reality”.

The European Social Fund (ESF) has been investing in people for more than 50 years. 

The European Social Fund was established in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome. The revised framework of its competences was defined in the consolidated version of the Treaty establishing the European Union.

On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, a short review of the landmarks of the history of the Fund is presented, leading to its current objectives and competences with particular emphasis on the financial frameworks of the 2000-2006 and the 2007-2013 programming periods.

Article 146 of the consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union defines the aims and competences of the oldest Fund in the European Union.

‘’In order to improve employment opportunities for workers in the internal market and to contribute thereby to raising the standard of living a European Social Fund is hereby established […] this fund shall aim to render the employment of workers easier and to increase their geographical and occupational mobility within the Community; and to facilitate their adaptation to industrial changes and to changes in production systems; in particular through vocational training and retraining".

‘’The 50th anniversary of the EEC/ EC/EU and of the European Social Fund and the beginning of a new ESF funding period provide an opportunity to place new emphasis on the social dimension of Europe and to demonstrate that solidarity as well as social and regional cohesion have been key elements of European integration from the outset.

In a sense, the ESF embodies an approach under which Social Cohesion and competitiveness are regarded as mutually dependent factors.’’

Since 1957, the European Social Fund constitutes the oldest and most important instrument of the redistributive European Social policy, (including the structural and regional policies) for the development of human resources and the improvement of working conditions in the labour market.

Its main objective is to finance measures for the prevention and combating of unemployment, for the specification of occupational qualifications, the promotion of equal treatment for men and women, for social integration in the labour market, as well as sustainable development and economic and social cohesion.

The ESF co-finances not only actions supporting the implementation of the European Employment Strategy (EES), but has also become its main source of funding, by providing financial support for the implementation of national Action Plans regarding employment and social integration.  

The European Employment Strategy calls for cooperation between the 27 Member States, aiming to increase Europe’s ability to create more and better jobs and also provide its citizens with adequate skills required for these jobs.

Financing is spread across the Member States and regions particularly to those whose economic development is less advanced.

The Fund is a key element of the EU’s strategy for Growth and Jobs targeted at improving the lives of European citizens by giving them better skills and better employment prospects.

For the interventions of the previous programming period (2000 – 2006) the Fund was provided with a budget amounting to 60 billion Euros’’. To achieve its targets, over the new period (2007-2013), a budget amounting to 77 billion Euros will be distributed among the 27 Member States and regions. This represents around 10% of the total budget of the European Union.

‘’The European Union is facing a series of challenges that range from globalization to new technologies, from an ageing population to research and innovation. To tackle these issues a highly skilled work force is required and the European Social Fund is the key to this’’.

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