Takeaways from Eurocities City Dialogue on the European Social Fund+

8 April 2020

This Eurocities city dialogue brought together 90 people from 55 cities in 20 countries to discuss how cities get involved in the programming of the ESF+ for 2021-2027. City experts learned about the state of play of ESF+ at EU level directly from the European Commission. They exchanged and learned how other cities are working with managing authorities to feed an urban perspective, based on local needs, into the priorities and actions of the ESF+ programme in their region or country, expected to start in 2021.

This was the second in a series of online events organised by Eurocities to inform, connect cities and facilitate city-to-city dialogue and mutual learning on EU funding.

Key takeaways from the European Commission

Marianne Doyen from DG EMPL, European Commission, presented state of play of ESF+ at EU level.

EU-level negotiations

The Commission is working hard with the member states and the European Parliament to reach agreement on ESF+ regulation by July 2020 and conclude the negotiations on MFF by December 2020. If this is not possible, it will draw up a contingency plan for 2021.

Timeline for programming

Managing authorities have started drafting the regional / national programmes for ESF+ and opening for consultation in spring 2020. The drafts are expected to be finalised by end 2020.

Thematic priorities

ESF+ has 11 specific objectives, allowing also for actions not directly related to employment, but to broader social inclusion measures. The European Fund for the Most Deprived (FEAD) will be integrated into ESF+ which will make it easier to combine social inclusion with activation measures.

Social innovation

There is a big opportunity for cities to use ESF+ for social innovative actions (Article 13) where co-financing is up to 95%.

Transnational cooperation

No more joint calls at EU level, but it is still possible to do transnational cooperation within the national allocation of ESF+.


European Commission Directors General of DG EMPL and DG REGIO sent letters to member states in November 2019 stressing the key principles of partnership and transparency in cohesion policy. Managing authorities feel committed to the partnership with local authorities.

However, there is no change in the mode of management of this EU funding, meaning that the EU social funds continue to be managed by the managing authorities in your region / country.

Key takeaways from cities

  • half of cities at the webinar said they were not at all consulted so far about the ESF+ programme in their region or country. 50% were consulted but managed to send inputs via email or indirectly via association of cities.
  • No change in partnership so far compared to 2014-2020: the cities who were previously involved in programming of ESF also got consulted for ESF+, those who were not previously consulted, did not get a chance now either. This shows that the partnership principle continues to be applied very differently across member states:
    • Spain: cities are not involved directly in programming, just indirectly through association of cities, but their needs from local level are not well represented and reflected in the EU funding programmes
    • France: programming of ESF+ is centralised at national level for employment and inclusion, at regional level on education and training objectives.
    • Italy: good practice of National Operational Programme for Metropolitan Cities. 14 big cities are intermediary bodies, such as Bologna that works closely with the managing authority on ESF.
    • Sweden: good practice of global ESF grant at regional level that are easy to re-prioritise each year. Cities in Sweden collaborate on ESF programming and address together national managing authorities.
  • Cities that have the role of managing authorities (e.g. Hamburg) or intermediate body (Bologna) are managing global ESF grants (no need to apply to calls for projects) and, in this way, they can allocate the funds closer to the needs in the city, and can act quickly to re-prioritise according to urgent challenges, such is the case of COVID-19 emergency. Times of crisis show that cities are best placed to act quickly and use EU funding where is most needed at local level!

Follow-up actions

  1. Contact your managing authority: if your city has not at all been consulted so far for the programming of ESF+ post-2020, then take initiative and contact your managing authority to discuss the urgent challenges in your city that could use ESF+ funding. You can find the contact details for the managing authorities on the EU website.
  2. Join forces: if many/all cities in your region/country face the same difficulties in getting your local needs reflected into the programme, then you can join forces to address this problem with the national managing authorities (e.g. write a joint letter).
  3. Keep us updated: You are invited to send us updates on how your city is consulted/involved in the preparation of ESF+ programme in your region/country. Please share with us your concerns, challenges and/or good practices of working with the managing authorities. We will then notify the European Commission who will discuss your points with the managing authority from your region/country.

Recording of the webinar

You can access the recording of the webinar here: