ESF: European Social Fund.

Table of Contents:

ESF: European Social Fund.

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about ESF: European Social Fund.


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Employment and social policy > Job creation measures

ESF: European Social Fund.

To redefine the framework and political priorities of the European Social Fund (ESF) for the period 2000-06 to support the European Employment Strategy as part of the Agenda 2000 reform of the Structural Funds and to guarantee consistency and complementarity in the measures taken to improve the workings of the labour market and to develop human resources.

Document or Iniciative

Regulation (EC) No 1784/1999 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 July 1999 on the European Social Fund [Official Journal L 213 of 13.08.1999].


This Regulation falls within the overall framework set up under Council Regulation (EC) No 1260/1999 laying down general provisions on the Structural Funds. It contains specific provisions applicable to the ESF to the effect that the Fund must provide assistance throughout the European Union in line with the new Objectives 1, 2 and 3 set up under the General Regulation.


The ESF’s remit is to support measures which aim to prevent and combat unemployment, develop human resources and foster social integration in the labour market, so as to promote a high level of employment, equal opportunities for men and women, sustainable development and economic and social cohesion. In particular, it must assist the measures taken in line with the European strategy and guidelines on employment.


The ESF provides assistance for the three new objectives laid down in Regulation (EC) No 1260/99 concerning the general provisions on the Structural Funds.

The Regulation provides for five key policy areas for the ESF:

  • development of active labour market policies to combat and prevent unemployment, to avoid long-term unemployment, to facilitate the reintegration of the long-term unemployed and to support integration into the labour market of young people and persons returning to work after a period of absence;
  • promotion of equal opportunities for all in terms of access to the labour market, with particular attention to persons at risk of social exclusion;
  • promotion and improvement of vocational training, education and counselling in the context of a lifelong learning policy;
  • promotion of a skilled, well-trained and flexible workforce, innovative and adaptable forms of work organisation, and entrepreneurship;
  • specific measures to improve access and active participation of women in the labour market (career prospects, access to new job opportunities, setting up businesses, etc.).

Objective 3 is intended to provide “horizontal” assistance throughout the European Union, outside regions eligible under the new Objective 1.

In addition, the ESF encompasses three horizontal issues:

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

Eligible Activities

In general, three forms of assistance are eligible for ESF funding:

  • assistance for individuals, which should represent the main form of aid, covering areas such as vocational training or education and careers guidance, etc.;
  • assistance for structures and systems to make support activities for individuals more effective (e.g. improving personal effectiveness);
  • accompanying measures (provision of services and equipment for the care of dependent persons, promotion of social skills training, and public awareness and information campaigns).

The ESF must provide assistance based on the national priorities set out in National Action Plans for employment which are drawn up by Member States. It also needs to take ex-ante evaluations into account.

Concentration of assistance

To make ESF measures more effective, assistance must be concentrated on a limited number of areas or themes and be directed towards the most important needs and the most effective operations, having due regard to ex ante evaluations and to covering relevant areas of policy.

The Regulation establishes small subsidy schemes under Objectives 1 and 3 with special provisions governing access for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local partners. It also provides for ESF financing of up to 100% of eligible costs for implementation of these schemes.

Community Initiatives, innovative measures and technical assistance

In accordance with the provisions laid down in the General Regulation governing the Structural Funds, the ESF helps to implement the Community initiative to combat all forms of discrimination and inequality in the labour market (EQUAL).
Social and occupational integration of asylum seekers is also to be taken into account in the EQUAL initiative.

The ESF also finances preparation, follow-up and assessment activities in the Member States or at Community level needed to develop:

  • innovative measures and pilot projects on the labour market, employment and vocational training;
  • studies and experience sharing, producing a multiplier effect;
  • technical assistance linked to the preparation, follow-up, assessment and vetting of ESF-funded operations;
  • measures intended for employees of firms in two or more Member States under the Social Dialogue;
  • information arrangements for the various partners involved, the final beneficiaries and the general public.

Transitional provisions

The transitional regime laid down in the General Regulation on the Structural Funds applies to the Regulation on the ESF.


The Council will reexamine the Regulation by 31 December 2006 at the latest.


Regulation (EEC) No 4255/88 will be repealed on 1 January 2000.

Act Date
of entry into force
Final date for implementation in the Member States
Regulation (EC) No 1784/1999 16.08.1999

Related Acts

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Social Fund [com(2004) 493 final].

This document provides for the repeal of this Regulation.

Proposal for a Council Regulation laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund [COM(2004) 492 final].

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