The present proposal for the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) represents a major issue for local and regional authorities and stakeholders, which need to communicate their position as soon as possible in order to be able to influence the legislative process due to be concluded before the European elections in June 2019.
On 5 April 2019, the EP adopted its report on the ESF Plus proposal (COM(2018)0382 – C8-0232/2018 – 2018/0206(COD)) and concluded the first reading. The amendments adopted by the European Parliament are of very technical nature and set the basis for future negotiations with the Council. EP's amendments appear referring to social and employment policies rather than to Cohesion policy, which is on the contrary the focus of the CoR opinion. Although the impact of the CoR opinion may seem limited, the biggest achievement of CoR efforts is the proposal for the ESF Plus regulation itself: the European Commission took on board two key recommendations of the CoR opinion on "Mid-term review of the ESF preparing the post-2020 proposal" (opinion 6121/2017, rapp. Catiuscia Marini, adopted on 22 March 2018) to keep the ESF as part of Cohesion policy instruments under shared management.
After the European elections and new mandate starting, the European Parliament's EMPL Committee decided, on 2 October 2019, to enter into interinstitutional negotiations. The kick-off trilogue meeting with the Commission and the Council took place on 9 December 2019. The negotiations are still ongoing, although without a direct contribution from the CoR.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- welcomes the links that the proposal for an ESF+ regulation makes to the European Pillar of Social Rights, although it lacks a clearer link to the objective of economic, social and territorial cohesion, insofar as the two elements are complementary and interrelated;
- regrets, that the ESF+ has been separated financially from the ERDF and the Cohesion Fund, which may lead to a possible break-up of cohesion policy in the post-2027 MFF, as happened recently with the EAFRD;
- expresses concern about the reduction in the financial envelope in a proposal which includes new additional objectives for the ESF+, as this will mean less resources being allocated to meet more objectives;
- deems the opening up of the ESF+ to the area of social innovation as a promising step, but believes that there is a need to put in place tools and mechanisms to strengthen the capacities of key players when designing, implementing and evaluating this type of programme;
- welcomes the link between the ESF+ objectives and the European Pillar of Social Rights. The CoR remains however cautious about the link between the ESF+ and the country-specific recommendations adopted in the context of the European Semester;
- calls for recognition for the important work carried out by local and regional authorities in relation to the socio-economic integration of immigrants, especially unaccompanied minors and young people, and particularly those LRAs in areas with external border