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20 septiembre, 2019


Ángel María García Frontelo

Deputy Director-General of the Administrative Unit of the European Social Fund (Ministry of Labour, Migration and Social Security)

62 years have passed since the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which gave rise to the current European Union, the great geopolitical project of the continent in our time. Since its gestation, this integration project has had social dimension as one of its distinguishing marks. Such is the case that in the founding Treaty of the European Economic Community of 1957 the European Social Fund (ESF) was established, making this the oldest structural fund.

The structural funds form part of the European policy on economic, social and territorial cohesion, which aims to reduce disparities in the development of the 247 regions of the European Union, as well as promoting a sustainable, intelligent and inclusive growth in these territories.

The term “structural funds” is often associated with the ERDF, the European Regional Development Fund, whose signs can be seen at the side of roads and in front of many public works. The ESF is probably not as well-known because instead of financing tangible and easily visible works such as infrastructures (which are also undoubtedly necessary), it allocates funds directly to people: to improve their training, including vocational training, their possibilities of getting and keeping a quality job, and their appropriate social inclusion.

From beginnings centred on funding the readjustment of workers in sectors which experienced retraining processes, the ESF evolved to become an essential instrument of the European Employment Strategy. It has been calculated that in the period from 2007 to 2013, 9.9 million people from the EU found a job after finishing their project funded by the ESF.

In the coming years the ESF will also constitute a key element for the application of the European Pillar of Social Rights proclaimed on 17 November 2017.

Without prejudice to the aforementioned, the raison d’être of the ESF is today summarized in the motto with which it advertises itself: The European Social Fund invests in people.

How Much Does It Invest in People?

In the group of member states, the ESF gives rise to approximately 10 billion euros of aid per year from the EU budget. In Spain the ESF invests around 1 billion euros per year.

The endowments are established for programming periods of 7 years. In the current programming period 2014-2020 (whose execution will be extended to 2023), Spain has an aid allowance of 10.374 billion euros from the EU to invest in people.

The aforementioned figure includes: the European Social Fund, with 8.449 billion euros; the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), with 1.362 billion euros; and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), with 563 million euros.

The joint funding that the member state is obliged to contribute in order to complement EU aid must be added to these amounts. Thus the total investment in Spain, adding both sources, comes to 13.855 billion euros.

Which Objectives Does the ESF Invest in to Improve People’s Lives?

In Spain, this considerable volume of ESF resources is chiefly invested in 3 main points: employment, social inclusion and education and training, which are summed up in objectives based on the same theme:

  • Promote the sustainability and quality in employment and favour job mobility, with a predicted investment of 4.395 billion euros of EU aid.
  • Promote social inclusion, fight against poverty and any kind of discrimination, in which more than 2 billion euros will be invested of EU aid.
  • Invest in education, training and professional training for the acquisition of skills and permanent learning, with an endowment of 2.135 billion euros of EU aid.

Investment in these objectives is distributed over 23 operational programmes: 19 of regional scope (one for each community or autonomous city) and 4 national programmes: Youth Employment (POEJ), Employment, Training and Education (POEFE), Social Inclusion and Social Economy (POISES) and Technical Assistance (POAT).

Investment of the ESF in the Social Inclusion of People

In the current period 2014-2020, the ESF has put a special emphasis on fighting against social exclusion and against all types of discrimination, allocating, as has been shown, a significant part of its resources to the most deprived people.

In this respect it is worth pointing out the aforementioned Social Inclusion and Social Economy Operational Programme (POISES), a national programme with a total endowment of 1.095 billion euros (812 million euros of EU aid) which is specifically directed towards the most vulnerable groups, such as people with disabilities, those belonging to ethnic minorities, the prisoner or ex-prisoner population, the long-term unemployed, victims of human trafficking or violence, immigrants and those of foreign origin, homeless people, or people with addiction problems.

The POISES is fundamentally investing in the following priorities:

  • Active inclusion, by, for example, integrated and personalized itineraries directed at people who are more distant from the labour market.
  • The socioeconomic integration of deprived communities, in particular of the gypsy population.
  • The fight against all types of discrimination and the promotion of equal opportunities.
  • Encouragement of the social and solidarity economy in order to provide access to employment.


In order to give the most appropriate response to the challenge of social inclusion and so that the numerous resources that the ESF allocates to these priorities achieve the best results, a suitable cooperation between the public sector and the civil society is essential.

The POISES constitutes a satisfactory model of this cooperation. In this model various entities from the public sector which contribute their institutional skills intervene, and organisations from the third sector, which have a broad experience of field work with the most vulnerable people and those more distant from the labour market.

The ESF also promotes the transnational cooperation with the end to allow for the exchange of good practices among companies of different Member States and to achieve a better repercussion in the national and European public policies.

ESF Support for the Inclusion of People with Addiction Problems

An excellent example of entities from the third sector which are specialized in the integration of people at risk of exclusion taking part in the ESF can be found in the Proyecto Hombre Association, which since 2015 has operated as beneficiary of the POISES.

The ESF funds different general actions regarding inclusion which benefit vulnerable groups and can lend services, as well as other groups, to people with addiction problems. These are actions promoted by regional or national entities (among them, the Prison Work and Training for Employment Entity). However, the operations of Proyecto Hombre are the only ones specifically aimed at this group of people.

The main ESF operation of Proyecto Hombre is called INSOLA (Socio-labour integration of people with addictions) and has a total budget of 10.7 million euros.

INSOLA is an innovative group of actions in therapeutic communities which are adapted to the process, level of motivation and skill of each person taking part. Among these actions are a service of initial orientation, a phase of training and development of skills for life in the pre-work field and for socio-family inclusion and a specialized orientation aimed at ability qualification and in skills for labour insertion in a normalized environment.

Proyecto Hombre also develops with the ESF, in the framework of social innovation, the Medimsola operation, which consists in developing a suitable methodology to calculate the social impact of the Insola operation.

The ESF’s Investment in People: An Intelligent Investment

This Medimsola operation of Proyecto Hombre is entirely relevant because it deals with a central issue: the repercussion and efficiency of the investment that the ESF carries out.

Firstly it must be pointed out that this investment is totally necessary if a European Union is supported on the basis of solidarity and social cohesion.

But the independent evaluations on the impact of the actions for socio-labour inclusion have also shown that the investment of the ESF is cost-effective: for every euro spent on helping vulnerable people, a much greater reward is always generated, with regard to new public revenues derived from contributions and taxes, providing of value to companies, saving in public spending allocated to unemployment benefit, welfare assistance, social or health services and other positive externalities.

Therefore the investment in people, and particularly in those at risk of exclusion, is an intelligent investment because it is socially and economically beneficial.

The continuity of this investment of the ESF in people and the demonstration of its profitability are essential for counteracting the wave of scepticism, even of rejection, to the European Union which has been growing for some time on the part of the citizens of the Member States. With regard to this movement, the European Union is responsible for showing that its contributions are highly important in improving people’s lives and in continuing to build societies which are more united, inclusive and fairer and which do not leave anybody out. Perhaps worth more today than ever is the maxim that says Europe will be social or it will not be.


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