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In the EU Summit of Lisbon in March 2000 a new, wider strategy was adopted, aiming to make “the European Union the most competitive and most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth accompanied by quantitative and qualitative improvement of employment and greater social cohesion by 2010’’. 

The European Employment Strategy, the Lisbon Strategy and the Treaty of Nice in 2001 constitute the policy framework for the programming period 2000 - 2006.

With the Structural Funds reform held under the Action Plan “Agenda 2000’’, the structural interventions should be concentrated on the most important problems of growth. 

The European Social Fund became the main financial instrument working to improve the skills and adaptability of human resources at European Union level. Its scope is extended and is transformed to a strategic tool with a wide range of investment measures for human resources, which are recognized as a driving force for growth.

According to its competences it intervenes primarily in the framework of European Employment Strategy and to help the Member States to implement the employment guidelines under the European Employment Strategy. Coherence between the strategy in the national plans and the priorities of European Social Fund in this area is crucial. 

The ESF aims to coordinate the national policies for the labour market in order to make them more effective and to give an emphasis on the development of employment.

The programmes focused on preventive actions, on equal opportunities, on social inclusion and access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). 

The European Employment Strategy aims to strengthen the coordination of national employment policies, involving Member States in a series of common objectives and targets, focused on four pillars, namely employability, entrepreneur-ship, adaptability and equal opportunities.

The ESF was called to support these areas under Objectives 1 and 3 as follows:

The pillar of employability included the following:

  • Combating long-term unemployment and young people unemployment
  • Modernising education and training systems
  • Active monitoring of the unemployed by offering them a new start in the field of training or employment (before reaching six months of unemployment for every unemployed young person and 12 months for long-term unemployed).
  • Reducing the numbers dropping out of the education system early by 50% and deciding on a framework agreement between employers and social partners on how to open workplaces for training and work practice.

For the improvement of employability the European Social Fund contributed (throughout the European Union) about 60% of budget, from which 1/3 was allocated exclusively to combating social exclusion. 

The pillar of entrepreneurship focused on establishing clear, predictable rules concerning the start-up and running of businesses and the simplification of administrative burdens on small and medium size enterprises (SME’s).

For promotion of entrepreneurship the ESF provided 8 billion Euros that gave the necessary stimulus to new businesses and job creation in the services sector. 

The pillar of adaptability referred to:

  • Modernising work organisation and flexibility of working arrangements and putting in place of a framework for more adaptable forms of contracts,
  • Renewal of skill levels within enterprises by removing fiscal barriers and mobilisation of State aid policies on upgrading the labour force,
  • Creation of sustainable jobs and efficiently functioning labour markets.

For promotion of adaptability of the European working population was invested nearly 11 billion Euros, the main priorities being the development of continuing training, the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and activities for SME’s. 

The pillar of “equal opportunities” aimed at combating of gender gap and supporting the increased employment of women, by implementing policies on career breaks, parental leave, part-time work, and good quality care for children.

Mission and competences of the ESF 

ESF’s role is to support measures whose goals are to:

  • prevent and combat unemployment,
  • develop human resource and foster of social integration in the labour market, so as to promote a high level of employment
  • promote equal opportunities for men and women
  • foster sustainable development and economic and social cohesion.  

In the interventions of the ESF are included three horizontal policies:

  • The promotion of local employment initiatives (including territorial pacts for employment).
  • The social dimension and moreover the employment in the information society
  • Equal opportunities for men and women (as part of the drive for mainstreaming equal opportunities policies).

The five key policy areas of European Social Fund

The ESF interventions were realized within the framework of three 3 objectives, while five key policy areas are provided for ESF activity.

The 3 objectives included interventions based on the level of development of the regions, as well as the kind of obstacles they face.

The five ESF key policy areas were the following: 

1. Developing and promoting of active labour market policies in order to

  • combat and prevent unemployment,
  • prevent both women and men from moving into long-term unemployment,
  • facilitate the reintegration of the long-term unemployed and to support the occupational integration of young people and of persons returning to the labour market after a period of absence. 

2. Promoting of equal opportunities for all in accessing the labour market with particular emphasis on persons exposed to social exclusion

  • Facilitating the access to the labour market for those who are having problems entering and returning to the labour market
  • Promoting lifelong learning and inclusive practices encouraging recruitment and stable employment for those suffering from discrimination or unequal treatment at work.
  • Promoting equal opportunities for men and women (as part of the drive for mainstreaming equal opportunities policies).
  • Combating direct and indirect discriminations and inequalities of all unprivileged social groups.
  • Promoting the social dimension of equal employment opportunities in the information society.

3. Promoting and improving vocational training, education, counseling as part of lifelong learning policy, in order to

  • Facilitate and improve access to and integration into the labour market.
  • Improve and maintain employability.
  • Promote job mobility.

4. Promoting a skilled, well-trained and adaptable workforce aiming at

  • Promoting innovation and adaptability in work organization.
  • Developing entrepreneurship and conditions facilitating job creation and
  • Enhancing skills and boosting human potential in research, science and technology.

5. Specific measures to improve access and active participation of women in the labour market, including their career development, their access to new job opportunities and to setting up businesses in order to reduce vertical and horizontal segregation on the basis of gender.

Fifth enlargement

In 2004 the great enlargement of the European Union to the East became reality with the accession of 10 new Member States Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia.

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