Making it work: the European Social Fund - European Union Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 194-199)

Mr Robert Verrue, Mrs Lenia Samuel, Mr Thomas Bender, Mr Georges Kintzele, Ms Renate Schopf and Ms Ines Hartwig

14 JANUARY 2010

  Chairman: Welcome to the Sub-Committee of the EU Select Committee that looks at social policy and consumer affairs. Thank you very much for sparing the time to talk to us about our present inquiry on the ESF. I will begin by asking my colleagues who are on the Sub-Committee to introduce themselves.

  Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: I am Archie Kirkwood. I am a Liberal Democrat, a former Member of Parliament. I have been in the House of Lords since 2005 and on the Sub-Committee for the past year.

  Lord Inglewood: Richard Inglewood. I am a Conservative member of the House of Lords. I am a hereditary peer and have been there since 1989.

  Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: He is the real thing!

  Lord Inglewood: I was also in the European Parliament for ten years and was a junior minister briefly at the end of the John Major Government.

  Chairman: I am Baroness Howarth. I am a crossbencher, which means I am not politically aligned, which is wonderful; I can say what I want, when I want and how I want it. My background is in social care and social policy.

  Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: I am Maggie Jones. I came into the House of Lords in 2006 and am a relatively new member of the Sub-Committee. I am a Labour peer.

  Q194  Chairman: I have been on the Sub-Committee for a long time, which is the other thing.

  Mrs Samuel: Thank you very much. It is a great privilege and pleasure for us to be sitting at the same table with you to discuss these interesting questions about the ESF. I will start in the way that you did and start with my right-hand side. This is Thomas Bender. Maybe, Thomas, you can say a few things about yourself.

  Mr Bender: Good morning. I am Thomas Bender, Head of Unit for ESF Co-ordination and Acting Director for ESF Co-ordination and in charge of a couple of Member States in DG Employment.

  Ms Schopf: My name is Renate Schopf. I am one of the desk officers of the UK team at DG Employment.

  Ms Hartwig: I am Ines Hartwig. I am a member of the Unit on Evaluation and Impact Assessment.

  Mr Kintzele: Good morning. I am Georges Kintzele. I am Head of Unit of the Geographical Unit dealing with the UK. We have the responsibility for ESF monitoring (national and regional Operational Programmes), national employment policy assessment and national social inclusion and social protection policy assessment.

  Mrs Samuel: I am Lenia Samuel. I am the Deputy Director General in DG Employment responsible for ESF. I joined the Commission in 2005 when my country—Cyprus—became a member of the EU.

  Q195  Chairman: We all hope it gets even further.

  Mrs Samuel: Yes, let us hope so.

  Q196  Chairman: I have to say to you that as far as our Committee and process are concerned, this is on the record which means we will have a record that we will send to you for checking. We would be grateful if you could turn it around as quickly as possible because we have a process that it has to get back into our parliamentary system. What we would like to do is when Mr Verrue arrives, and I gather he is arriving at about ten past but leaving at eleven, to take the questions where we would like his perspective. If we are not there, could I ask your indulgence to do that so we can get his perspective before he has to leave at eleven o'clock because we may not reach those otherwise and it would be helpful. We do let you have a draft version of the questions but we may follow up on other areas because we have got quite into this inquiry now but still have a lot of questions left. It would be helpful if we could take a general question to begin with. I think I was surprised when I remembered that ESF has been included in the Treaties since 1957. You forget that it goes back as far as that. We wondered how, and why, it still has a role in helping Member States to do "more", do "different" and do "better" as you say in your submission. Do you think that applies right across the European Union?

  Mrs Samuel: You are right that ESF is as old as the Treaty itself. It has a double treaty foundation, in fact, in Articles 162 and 175. Article 162 of the Treaty gives the ESF the task of improving employment opportunities for workers in the internal market. If you read Article 175 you will see that it does not define the ESF as a cohesion fund. Its structural purpose is linked to the policies that the fund services and these apply across the EU. Of course, social, economic and political contexts do not remain constant, there is always change, and this has been demonstrated very clearly by the financial crisis that hit Europe which was the worst in many decades. Policies need to be adapted to secure the future competitiveness of our industries and economies, and the adaptability and employability of the workers. They must demonstrate that they contribute to social cohesion, to tackling unemployment and fostering social inclusion, while securing well-performing labour markets. This requires a rethink of our education systems and our labour markets, enhancing mobility and boosting Europe's dynamism to unleash its innovative and creative potential. As you know, the ESF is the main EU financial instrument for employment and skills and, therefore, it continues—this is the answer to your question—to play a role in helping Member States to address the challenges of the time, to do "more", as you say, to do "different" and "better". In all Member States the ESF is used to test new approaches, to roll out new policies or to close financing gaps. Through planning, evaluating, or the partnership principle, which is also very important, the ESF helps Member States to better implement policies. Mr Verrue has arrived.

  Q197  Chairman: We knew you were going to be a little late, so I hope you do not mind that we started. We are hoping to change the programme a little bit because I understand you have to leave early, is that right?

  Mr Verrue: That is right.

  Chairman: Our plan is to take some of the questions that we would like to have your view on at an earlier point in the agenda. Would it be helpful if we introduced ourselves to you? I am Baroness Howarth. I am the Chairman of the Sub-Committee of the EU Select Committee in the House of Lords in the UK Parliament that looks at social policy and consumer affairs. Our Sub-Committee at the moment is looking at the role of the ESF. I will ask my colleagues who are Sub-Committee members to introduce themselves.

  Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: I am Archie Kirkwood. I am a Liberal Democrat, former Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. I joined the House of Lords in 2005.

  Lord Inglewood: Richard Inglewood, I am a Conservative. I was in the European Parliament for ten years and I was a junior minister in the John Major Government.

  Chairman: I sit on the crossbenches.

  Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: I am Maggie Jones and I am a Labour peer. I joined the House of Lords in 2006.

  Q198  Chairman: We have our Clerk with us, our Policy Analyst and our shorthand writer. We were just talking about the role of the ESF.

  Mrs Samuel: It does have a role to play. I think I had completed what I had to say on the first question. I do not know whether my colleagues want to add anything. For us, the ESF has proved its value over the years. Its history is one of success and we see that it has a great future as well.

  Q199  Chairman: On what basis do you say that it does "more", does "different" and does "better"? What is the evaluative basis for saying that?

  Mr Bender: We look at the data we get from the Member States, from the managing authorities, that they report to us on an annual basis, currently even electronically. On the basis of that we see, for example, that definitely in convergence regions the pure number of participants has doubled or even tripled. For example, the number of beneficiaries in Ireland, or Northern Ireland at the time, in youth programmes has substantially increased due to the support of the ESF. We can provide some very basic figures on the numbers of people. Ten million people a year in Europe across all 27 Member States. We have figures that we reach out to more than 50 per cent of women amongst these ten million and to about 50 per cent of people who are unemployed or economically inactive. We have figures that show about two million people a year move into a job after having received ESF support. That does not mean, of course, that it creates two million jobs a year because that is not the first role of a labour market instrument, but it is an effect, of course an intended effect, of our interventions. It is a bit more difficult to say where we do "better" and where we do "different". We would argue that we do "better" because with the Structural Funds we have introduced the rules coming along with the ESF, the specific guiding principles. For example, a programming approach which provides stability for the Member States benefiting from the fund over a period of five to seven years, a planning stability which is helpful for both the Member States but also the beneficiaries, the project promoters. We have also introduced in many Member States, in particular the new Member States, what we call a culture of evaluation. We try to encourage Member States to move towards evidence-based policy making and policy implementation. We have tight rules on evaluation, ex-ante ongoing evaluation and ex-post evaluations. We are doing "different" things because as we tried to align the European Social Fund to our key objectives in the employment field we induced policy change in the Member States. I will give you one example. When we created on the basis of the Treaty of Amsterdam 1998 the employment chapter and introduced the European Employment Strategy, one of the key focuses of this policy was to intervene at a very early stage in a preventative manner in order to avoid unemployed people moving into long-term unemployment. For my home country—Germany—this was something relatively new because in their active labour market interventions they had tried to focus on long-term unemployed and socially excluded people. Of course, this was useful to a certain extent but it did not break the cycle of people becoming unemployed and moving into longer-term unemployment and the increased cost of getting them back into the labour market. With the Social Fund interventions from 2000-06 we introduced an important policy change which was taken up inter alia in the agenda 2010 of the then Social Democratic Green Government under Chancellor Schröder, which still continues under the current Government. This is what we mean when we say we do "different", because we induce policy change and better implementation of policies through the ESF.

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