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The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the social problems that European countries have been facing for years and has brought about extra challenges. The new European funds are meant to be a remedy to the crisis.

New rules for ESF+

At the end of January, the European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on the future European Social Fund+. The total budget of the ESF+ is almost €88 billion. From the perspective of social services, the most important aspect is the focus of the renewed fund on promoting social inclusion and fighting poverty. Under these objectives, Member States should pay special attention to children and youth from underprivileged backgrounds. Other priorities include developing the skills needed for the digital and green transitions and creating and protecting job opportunities. These ambitious goals translate into many specific requirements that are placed on the future ESF+ beneficiaries. Here are some examples:

  • All Member States should allocate at least 25% of their ESF+ resources to promote social inclusion;
  • All Member States should devote at least 3% of their ESF+ resources to provide food and basic material support to the most deprived, by integrating in the ESF+ the current Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD);
  • Member States with a level of child poverty above the EU average should use at least 5% of their ESF+ resources to address this issue;
  • Member States with a NEET rate of young people aged 15 – 29 who are not in employment, education or training above the EU average should programme at least 12.5% of their ESF+ resources for reforms to support young people.


In general, the new edition of ESF+ is more focused on implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights, in comparison to previous deals. However, this good news is tempered by a significant cut to the ESF+ budget. In 2014-2020, 95.8 billion was available for 28 Members States. Today, the EU-27 has 8.1% fewer resources available.

This shortfall can be partially compensated by the REACT-EU instrument. This new fund of 47.5 billion can be used, inter alia, to co-finance projects planned under ESF+. Additional funds will most likely be awarded to support job creation and maintenance, in particular for people in vulnerable situations but also for enhancing access to social services of general interest, including for children. Additionally, on 21 January the European Parliament voted to continue making additional resources from REACT-EU available for FEAD initiatives. According to the new regulation, these additional resources will not be co-financed by Member States and the Commission will provide pre-financing to further expedite delivery.

EU Funds and social services

ESN has long supported its members in making the best use of European funding and represented their position in discussions with the EU. In upcoming meetings of the Reference Group on the European Semester, which is now focusing on public social services access to EU funds, ESN will further explore with its members the opportunities created by new European funds regulations. The provisions outlined above provide a good basis for robust investment in public social services. It is ESN’s ambition to fully exploit this potential for supporting children and youth as per our proposals for the development and implementation of a European Child Guarantee with a focus on care plans for children and families. It is also our ambition to focus on the transformation of the care model to be community-focused, ensuring the quality and dynamic development of public social services.




Laura Mangeng (2021). Prioritising EU funding for social services: Three opportunities to look out for in 2021. 

Alfonso Lara Montero (2020). How EU financial instruments can support local social services. 

ESN (2020). ESN’s proposals for a European Child Guarantee.

ESN (2020). ESN’s proposals for the implementation plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights.


European Parliament (2021), Agreement reached on the European Social Fund+ for 2021-2027

Legislative Observatory, European Parliament (2021), European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) 2021–2027

European Parliament (2021), Additional and more flexible funding to help those most in need

Legislative Observatory, European Parliament (2021), Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) 2014-2020: specific measures for addressing the COVID-19 crisis

European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (2021), Understanding the opportunities and tackling the challenges ahead in the second year of the Covid-19 crisis

European Commission (n.d.), The European Pillar of Social Rights in 20 principles