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The European Social Fund (hereinafter the ESF) is one of the EU's Structural Funds, Europe’s main instrument for supporting jobs, helping people get better jobs and ensuring fairer job opportunities for all EU citizens. It works by investing in Europe’s human capital – its workers, its young people and all those seeking a job.

The European Union is committed to creating more and better jobs and a socially inclusive society. These goals are at the core of the Europe 2020 strategy for generating smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in the EU. The current economic crisis is making this an even more demanding challenge. The ESF is playing an important role in meeting Europe’s goals, and in mitigating the consequences of the economic crisis – especially the rise in unemployment and poverty levels.

The European Commission and EU countries in partnership set the ESF’s priorities and how it spends its resources. One priority is to boost the adaptability of workers with new skills, and enterprises with new ways of working. Other priorities focus on improving access to employment: by helping young people make the transition from school to work, or training less-skilled job-seekers to improve their job prospects. Indeed, vocational training and lifelong learning opportunities to give people new skills form a large part of many ESF projects.

Another priority focuses on helping people from disadvantaged groups to get jobs. This is part of enhancing ‘social inclusion’ – a sign of the important role that employment plays in helping people integrate better into society and everyday life. The financial crisis has led to a redoubling of efforts to keep people in work, or help them return to work quickly if they lose their jobs.

There is a great variety in the nature, size and aims of ESF projects, and they address a wide variety of target groups. There are projects aimed at education systems, teachers and schoolchildren; at young and older job-seekers; and at potential entrepreneurs from all backgrounds.

People are the focus of the ESF.

Fields of activity