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1957-2022: 65 years ESF

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Sixty five years ago, on March 1957, inspired by a dream of a peaceful, common future, the EU's founding members embarked on an ambitious journey of European integration, with the signing of the Treaties of Rome. They agreed to settle their conflicts around a table rather than in battlefields.


As a result, the painful experience of Europe's troubled past has given way to a peaceful period spanning six decades and to a Union of 500 million citizens enjoying freedom and opportunities in one of the world's most prosperous economies.



In the Treaty of Rome that established the European Economic Community (EEC), further to the objective of unifying the economies of Europe, provision was also made for efforts to eliminate the social inequalities in the European society by setting up the European Social Fund. The aim of the ESF was to facilitate the creation of jobs and make it easier for workers to move from one type of employment or geographical region to another.


The first reform of the ESF was adopted in 1971, with the aim of extending and strengthening it as an instrument with a greater Community focus. The Fund which emerged had substantially greater resources and its interventions centred on addressing the balance of labour supply and demand within the Community. The new structure placed emphasis not only on specific categories of workers but also on boosting employment in the less favoured regions.


This phase also saw the introduction of a number of new interventions, such as the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, and the opening up of ESF aid to the private sector and actions that promote innovation in training. 


In 1977, the spectre of unemployment began to loom over Europe. In response, the ESF focused its interventions and resources on creating jobs mainly for unemployed young people, women who were either unemployed or wishing to return to work, migrants and their families.


During the same period, and in conjunction with the European Regional Development Fund which was established in 1975, the ESF aspired to become one of the principal tools for European regional development in the social domain. 


Greece joined the European Economic Community as a full member in 1981. It is the beginning of the country’s considerable efforts to maximise its economic and social prosperity and be in par with the other member states, mainly by focusing on rapid development and the standard of living, a fact which defined its subsequent route and adjustment to the various European policies.


A key prerequisite for the success of this undertaking was the utilisation of the human factor and the upgrading of its productivity through adaptability to continuous developments and increased knowledge and skills.


The phenomenon of youth unemployment now required a dynamic response. The ESF's underlying philosophy was again revised and its interventions were extended to boost vocational training. This philosophy combines vocational training and work experience schemes for young people, vocational training for underqualified young people, particularly for jobs requiring qualifications in new technologies, as well as the training of instructors. Emphasis was also placed on employment schemes in priority regions, and the modernisation of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).


In Greece the ESF contributed to the creation of Vocational Training Centres and centres for the rehabilitation of people with mental disabilities, whilst also promoting the reform of the psychiatric system.


The first 'structural programmes' were introduced, named the Integrated Mediterranean Programmes (IMP), whose aim was to redress inequalities in the economic growth of the member states.


In Greece, the implementation of the Integrated Mediterranean Programmes began in 1986 and was completed in 1993. In all, seven IMPs were implemented in Crete, Macedonia and Thrace, Western Greece and the Peloponnese, the Aegean islands, Central Greece, Attica and one in the sector of information technology.


After 30 years of operation, the ESF entered a new era marked by the first extensive revision of the Treaty of Rome, which was carried out via the Single European Act of 1986. This revision was aimed at completing the single market, as the member states undertook a commitment to achieve the greatest possible economic and social cohesion and become a true 'European Union'.


This reform radically changed the role of the ESF which became one of the Structural Funds. At the same time, the Community Support Frameworks (CSFs) were introduced. The CSFs are essentially development programmes that are co-financed by the Community and the member state, the objectives and actions of which are also jointly decided.


The first Community Support Framework was implemented during this period. ESF extended its funding eligibility rules to include the training of public servants, the training of young people as apprentices after compulsory education, and the acquisition of work experience. It also supported self-employment, along with counselling and vocational training services. At the same time, the ESF facilitated the transfer of knowledge (relating to the modernisation of production systems) among member states.   


The interventions of the ESF in GREECE were aimed at combating long-term unemployment and facilitating the entry into the labour market of young people under the age of 25. The ESF funded vocational training programmes addressed to both the employed and the unemployed, as well as subsidising programmes for the creation of new jobs, especially in the sectors of telecommunications, research, tourism, transport, energy, banks/insurance, secondary education and health.


1994 - 1999
This period was marked by further changes for the ESF, with greater efforts being made to facilitate the integration of those at risk of exclusion from the labour market, as well as to help workers adapt to developments in industry and to changes in production systems. In addition, the scope of the Fund was enlarged, with eligibility and interventions extended to strengthen research and development in the social field.


In Greece, the second Community Support Framework was implemented during this period, with efforts directed toward preparing the country for entry to the Economic and Monetary Union which would follow.


The ESF interventions were expanded relatively to the period 1989-1993 endeavouring to further develop the country's human resources in more sectors and branches of the economy, and co-funded actions in the sectors of education, health, public administration, research, communications, tourism and industry.


2000 – 2006
The rapid technological developments and economic globalisation which marked the end of the 20th century guided the European Union toward new, dynamic choices regarding its social policy for the future. The ESF henceforth becomes the principal tool for social development, as confirmed by the statement in Lisbon, in March 2000,  that "people are Europe's main asset and should be the focal point of the Union's policies".


In Greece, the third Community Support Framework was implemented, and the interventions of ESF were delivered through 19 Operational Programmes and the Community Initiative EQUAL.


Vocational training and lifelong learning interventions, covering a broad spectrum of actions, were planned and carried out throughout Greece, playing a decisive role in the adjustment of the labour force to the new conditions of work, the facilitation of access to better jobs, the promotion of productivity and quality in the labour market.  Emphasis was also given on promoting female employment and entrepreneurship, promoting equal opportunities for all, as well as boosting employment at a local level, in regions with special social and economic problems.


At this time, the ESF, together with other European cohesion policy financial instruments, jointly supported the achievement of the objectives of Convergence and Regional Competitiveness and Employment, playing a key role in the European economic recovery plan.


The ESF focused on increasing the adaptability of workers and enterprises, enhancing access to employment, preventing unemployment in particular long-term unemployment and youth unemployment, encouraging the continued participation of older workers in the labour market, reinforcing social inclusion of disadvantaged people, combating all forms of discrimination in the labour market, improving the services of public administration.


In Greece, ESF interventions were implemented under the NSRF 2007-2013. The economic crisis that affected the country in the middle of the period had extremely adverse effects on the labour market, with unemployment rising to the highest levels in recent decades. The ESF actions were redefined to relieve social groups that were most threatened or more severely affected by the crisis.


2014 - 2020
In the 2014-2020 programming period the role of the European Social Fund in boosting employment, promoting education and lifelong learning, enhancing social inclusion, combating poverty and upgrading public administration, is reinforced.


The ESF investments are fully aligned  with “Europe 2020” objectives for employment, education and poverty reduction.


For the first time, in each category of regions a minimum percentage of the budget is allocated for ESF actions and a minimum percentage 20% of the ESF is dedicated to promoting social inclusion and combating poverty. Special emphasis is put on the fight against youth unemployment, especially of young people not in education, employment or training, through the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI).


As a response to the citizens' call to enhance the social dimension of the Union, on 17 November 2017 the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission jointly proclaim the European Pillar of Social Rights.


In May 2018, the Commission adopts a proposal for the next multi-annual financial framework for 2021-2027. The proposal includes the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) as the EU’s main instrument to invest in people and to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights. The ESF+ will bring together four funding instruments: the European Social Fund (ESF), the Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD) the Youth Employment Initiative and the European Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI).


At the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic breaks out, affecting all sectors of the European economy. EU responds immediately to ensure that all Member States are able to deal with this emergency. ESF is at the forefront of tackling the socio-economic crisis.


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Last modification date: 19/08/2022

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