ESF Plus: Funding Period 2021-2027

The European Social Fund (ESF), will continue to be the main EU funding instrument and thus also instrument of support for investment in people, as the "ESF Plus".

Logos of the german funding period ESF Plus
The main objective of the ESF Plus is to contribute to a social Europe and to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights into practice. The ESF is investing locally in measures to help people cope with economic and social challenges.

In the current funding period 2014-2020, the ESF has already reached EU-wide around 20 million people who were unemployed or inactive, supported around 10 million members of disadvantaged groups and more than 520,000 small and medium-sized enterprises. ESF-funded measures always address key socio-economic challenges in the Member States and regions, while also reflecting the development of the European Union’s employment and social policy agenda.

In the 2021-2027 funding period, the new ESF+ will focus even more on the idea of a more social Europe, bringing together the previous ESF, the previous European Aid Fund for the Most Deprived (FEAD), the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) and the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI).

In terms of content, the ESF Plus should in particular support:

  • improved access to employment, education and training;
  • active inclusion,
  • the socio-economic integration of third-country nationals;
  • equal access to high-quality social protection systems;
  • the social integration of disadvantaged people
  • and basic material assistance for the most disadvantaged.

ESF Plus funding must also be deployed with a focus on specific topics at Member State level. The detailed requirements are currently being negotiated at EU level. Depending on the outcome of the negotiations, funds will be used in particular to address the challenges of the "Country Specific Recommendations (CSR)", "Social Inclusion" and the most disadvantaged people (= ex-FEAD (European Aid Fund for the Most Deprived)), combating child poverty and promoting young people, and capacity building of social partners and civil society organisations.

A total of around EUR 2.3 billion is expected be available for the ESF Plus funding of the federal government.

Legal requirements

The content programming shall take into account the requirements of the relevant EU regulations. Accordingly, ESF Plus federal funding – in addition to the thematic focus already described – will be guided by the basic principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR).

It is also relevant for content programming that the need for action must be explained on the basis of a socio-economic analysis.

Participation of partners

In the summer of 2019, a public online consultation was held, in which about 1,500 people participated and inputs on funding needs, target groups with need for support as well as further content and technical suggestions for the future implementation of the European Social Fund Plus in the funding period 2021-2027.

On 22 October 2019, more than 130 people took part in the federal consultation event in Berlin. The results of the federal online consultation were presented at the event and discussed with the participants. Representatives of the Federal Ministries also presented their ideas for future funding programmes for the next funding period.

The ideas and proposals of the partners were largely incorporated into the planning of the funding strategy.

Coordination with the Länder

Since the beginning of 2020, the Federation has had intensive exchanges with the Länder regarding the programming of the 2021-2027 funding period. The objectives are to avoid overlaps in content and double funding as well as to ensure that ESF Plus funding is holistic and integrated across the board in Germany. Coherence coordination with the Länder is nearing completion.

Further timing

In July 2021, the European Commission published the regulations for the implementation of the ESF Plus. The draft of the ESF Plus Federal Programme (formerly called the Federal Operational Programme) 2021-2027 was submitted to the European Commission in October after the partnership agreement had been submitted. Approval by the European Commission took place on May 5th, 2022. Calls for funding will be published successively after official approval of the ESF Plus federal program.

The political package agreed with the Parliament includes:

  • a targeted reinforcement of EU programmes, including Horizon Europe, EU4Health and Erasmus+, by €15 billion through additional means (€12.5 billion) and reallocations (€2.5 billion) in the course of the next financial period, while respecting the expenditure ceilings set out in the European Council conclusions of 17-21 July
  • more flexibility to allow the EU to respond to unforeseen needs
  • greater involvement of the budgetary authority in the oversight of revenue under Next Generation EU
  • higher ambition on biodiversity and strengthened monitoring of biodiversity, climate and gender related spending
  • an indicative roadmap towards the introduction of new own resources

The next step would be to approve the agreement by the Member States.