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The European Social Network (ESN) has published a guideline for public authorities working in the field of social services on the new rules and regulations surrounding the use of EU Structural and Investment Funds in the new EU financial period for 2014-2020.

The guideline aims to contribute to the improvement in knowledge on EU Structural and Investment Funds amongst public social services in order to ensure that they are better able to access the Funds and, once accessed, that they are able to use Funds effectively, generating sustainable impact in their country, region or local community. The paper focuses in particular on the use of European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The guideline is a response to a recent survey conducted by ESN in which we asked 100 public authorities working in the field of social services about their past experience with European Funds. The survey revealed that public social services face certain difficulties when it comes to accessing and using European Funds, such as finding matched funding and reliable project partners or issues around organisational capacity.


EU Structural and Investment Funds are the main financial instrument for the implementation of the EU’s regional policy which aims to reduce the economic and social disparities between Europe’s regions. They offer a unique opportunity to support national investments in social projects over the next seven years, which have a long-term impact on people, services and local communities.

At the end of 2013, EU institutions and Member State governments agreed on new rules, regulations and procedures for the use of EU Structural and Investment Funds, which aim to simplify the use of EU Funds by making them more results-oriented and better targeted around a smaller number of priority areas. The release of EU funds will now also be made dependent on certain conditions which aim to ensure that EU funds is used in a sustainable and consistent manner.

A key agreement includes the responsibility of EU Member States benefiting from EU Structural and Investment Funds to allocate at least 20% of the European Social Funds to support national measures to combat poverty and social exclusion. If spent well, they will provide significant resources to support the most vulnerable citizens.

Key considerations for public social services applying for EU co-financed projects

  • Thinking strategically is important; public authorities should conduct a self-assessment of the financial resources and technical expertise they have within their organisation in order to ensure that they have the right skills and tools to deliver the project;

  • Be aware of how local needs connect with the national and European policy context, as this will show that you are able to think about how your project will contribute to wider social objectives and targets

  • Work in partnership across sectors and use the resources in the national, regional and local contexts to support project development and implementation;

  • Think about results and outputs from the start and ensure project proposals can demonstrate their ability to achieve the key outcomes.


How to use the document

The guideline is divided into five broad sections. The first two sections explain the rationale behind the EU’s Structural and Investment Funds programme making reference to its management, new procedures, requirements and instruments for 2014-2020. The third section raises awareness of practical considerations and key steps that public authorities can take to improve their applications for projects which receive EU co-funding. The fourth section contains a collection of past projects that have used EU Structural Funds in 2007-2013 in the field of social services, with those participating in the projects sharing their experiences with regards to EU Structural Funds. At the end of the Guideline there is also a glossary which gives an explanation of some of the technical terms used in the field of EU Funds.

For more information, please get in touch with the policy team.