History of the ESF in Germany

Signing of the Treaty of Rome, 25/03/1957
Signing of the Treaty of Rome, 25/03/1957 © European Communities,1955/ EC-Audiovisual Service

60 Years of the ESF - Investing in People

The European Social Fund (ESF) is the EU's most important tool in support of young and older workers and job-seekers. The Fund, which was established in 1957, promotes measures to avoid and combat unemployment, expand the range of training offered and improve the functioning of the labour market.

In co-operation with the Member States, the ESF is currently targeting the following goals:

  • a high level of employment,
  • equality between women and men,
  • sustainable development, as well as
  • economic and social cohesion.

The ESF provides the financial resources to support the European Employment Strategy by means of supplementary programmes to national labour market policy. It has made a decisive contribution to social cohesion in Europe: the financial resources of the ESF have ensured the funding of numerous high-quality projects and measures to enhance the employability of millions of people.

The ESF has been investing in people for 50 years. In this time, the promotion criteria have been repeatedly adjusted to changes on the labour market.

During the funding period 2014-2020 the Fund will continue to play an important role as a complement to national labour market policies.

1. Funding period 1958 to 1971

Bringing about adjustment between the Member States
The establishment of the European Economic Community was sealed in 1957 with the signing of the Treaties of Rome. The first period of the European Social Fund began. The conviction remained prevalent that the Community would automatically lead to growth and full employment.

The Member States were affected by unemployment to differing degrees. Professional and geographical mobility was promoted as the primary goal in order to bring about an adjustment between the Member States.

The promotional funding was used for re-training and for assistance in re-employment. Those benefiting from these resources included the unemployed, the under-employed and people with disabilities, as well as workers undergoing re-training in companies.

2. Funding period 1972 to 1983

Promoting adjustment to re-structuring
Reforms took place at the beginning of the second period. In order to make it possible for these funds to be deployed in a more targeted manner, they were now to be granted depending on criteria set by the Community, instead of in line with the Member States' guidelines. The overall budget increased considerably.

Economic change led to re-structuring of entire sectors of industry. The consequences were growing unemployment and at the same time a lack of skilled workers.

90 percent of all funds were deployed for professional training and further training measures. The fight against youth unemployment also took on a high status.

In 1973 the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland joined the European Community.

1981 Accession of Greece

3. Funding period 1984 to 1988

Setting the stage for structural change
Confidence in constant growth leading to full employment in the Community was starting to fade. The Fund was now re-orientated. Longerterm structural change became more important. Adjustment between the Member States was no longer the only task.

The funds were focussed on skill-building measures which were needed to enable people to secure their own jobs. There was a major role to be played here by promotion of young people below the age of 25.

What is more, employment opportunities for the long-term unemployed were expanded and special promotion allotted to disadvantaged regions.

1986 Accession of Portugal and Spain

4. Funding period 1989 to 1994

Increasing commitment to economic and social cohesion
Commitment to the economic and social cohesion of the community has grown with a new definition of the Internal Market. The Single European Act has guaranteed the free movement of goods, individuals, services and capital since 1987. A further step in the Member States' process of growing together was taken in the shape of 1993's Maastricht Treaty, the agreement establishing the European Union.

In this context, the launching of Community initiatives is an example of strengthening transnational cooperation. The Community Initiatives EUROFORM, NOW and HORIZON were established between 1991 and 1994.

  • EUROFORM - Development and implementation of skill-building measures for new technologies
  • NOW - Promotion for women for adjustment to structural changes on the labour market
  • HORIZON - Promotion of the integration of people with serious disabilities and other groups suffering from socio-cultural disadvantages

Special support for disadvantaged regions
The unification of the two German States in 1990 led to the re-inception of the Länder Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia as a part of the Federal Republic of Germany. West Berlin and the former Eastern part of the city became a single Federal State, now once more forming the German capital city. The modernisation and restructuring of the economy was a major challenge for Germany. The European Social Fund provided additional funds for the new Federal States.

5. Funding period 1994 to 1999

Creating a promotion instrument of structural policy
The European Social Fund set itself a new goal: to look ahead and support adaptation to industrial change. Employee skill-building was to be promoted, as was change in the production systems. This reform was the result of a transition from a pure adjustment fund to become a promotional instrument of structural policy. The Community Initiative ADAPT was significant to this task.

Integrating disadvantaged people into the labour market
Formulation of another new goal: The integration of people who have become excluded from the labour market. These include for instance people with disabilities, as well as young people.
The new Community Initiative EMPLOYMENT brought together these goals. Together with the existing HORIZON and NOW projects and the new areas YOUTHSTART and INTEGRA, they sought to prevent the exclusion of people with disadvantages from the labour market.

1995 Accession of Austria, Sweden and Finland

6. Funding period 2000 to 2006

Coordinating labour market policy
European policy is now centred on the topic of employment. Support is provided for the Member States’ labour market policy. The European Social Fund becomes the most important funding tool for this task. Roughly ten percent of the EU’s total budget are spent on the ESF.

Major areas of activity include for instance promotion of general and professional training in the context of a policy of life-long learning. People of all ages benefit at various times of their lives from this special promotional focus.

Creating new jobs by supporting business start-ups
The funding of the European Social Fund is to provide assistance for individual people. However, the positive effect often exceeds the advantages for individuals. Many programmes support unemployed people in realising innovative ideas for starting up in business. Further training and advice ensure a high success rate among startups. They also help to preserve these new jobs in the long term.

2004 Accession of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia

7. Funding period 2007 to 2013

Strengthening transnational cooperation
The main goals for this funding period are full employment, job quality and work productivity, as well as social cohesion and social integration. Since transnational cooperation will continue to play an important role with all these goals, the approaches of the Community’s EQUAL Initiative, successfully trialled since 2000, have been integrated into the programme planning 2007 to 2013.

EQUAL developed new ideas for the programming period 2000 to 2006 in order to create an integrative atmosphere. They seek to combat discrimination because of gender, ethnic origin, religion or conviction, disability, age or sexual orientation.

2007 Accession of Romania and Bulgaria
2013 Accession of Croatia

Promoting adjustment processes
Two focal points of this promotion period are the adjustment of areas particularly in need of promotion to stronger regions (convergence) and the strengthening of regional competitiveness and employment. In this endeavour, measures are supported which anticipate and deal with economic and social changes.

The key goals for the future are:

  • to increase the adaptability of workers and enterprises,
  • to improve access to employment,
  • to combat discrimination and to make it easier for persons with disadvantages to gain access to the labour market, and
  • to promote partnerships in order to reform the fields of employment and integration.

8. Funding period 2014 to 2020