What is the way forward to investing in people? Highlights from the ESF conference in Sofia

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On 15-16 February, EUROCITIES represented cities at the EU conference on ‘Investing in people – the way forward’, organised by the European Commission and hosted by the Bulgarian Presidency.

The conference gathered 400 participants from managing authorities, representatives of EU institutions, national, regional and local authorities, social partners and civil society NGOs to discuss how to shape the future of EU funding in human capital to improve access to education and lifelong learning, increase employability in a changing world of work, enhance social fairness for all and reduce inequalities. 

Commissioner for Employment, Marianne Thyssen, sent a video message inviting participants to contribute to defining the way forward for EU investing in people. She highlighted the next multi-annual financial framework should better contribute to upwards economic and social convergence in the EU. To achieve this, the Commissioner called for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and more use of the European Semester to 'invest in the areas where there is more impact’. 

The Director-General for Employment at the European Commission, Mr. Michel Servoz said: “The EU budget should be about solidarity among member states and support for policy reforms […] it’s not about the money, it’s about the policy priorities for the future of Europe”. He gave some indications of what the next funding period will focus on:

  • skills and employability are expected to be at the core of the future ESF and better synergies are foreseen between ESF and FEAD as well as with Erasmus+
  • simplification of procedures and more space for innovation 
  • linking EU funds with structural reforms in the European Semester via conditionalities
  • increased flexibility to enable review of priorities at mid-term of funding period

Kate Pickett and Richard G. Wilkinson followed with an inspiring keynote speech on why more equal societies almost always do better. They reminded that inequality was identified by the World Economic Forum in 2017 as the top obstacle in the way of economic growth and stability. Their research unveils the damages that inequality does to individuals as well as to a society as a whole. They found that the bigger income gaps in a country, the bigger the problems are, including deteriorations in health (mental illness, drug abuse, life expectancy, child mortality), human capital (child wellbeing, dropouts, social mobility, math and literacy scores) and social relations (community life, trust, school bullying, imprisonment). In a nutshell, health and social problems are far worse in more unequal countries despite no difference in GDP.  Moreover, in countries where participation in community is lower, people trust others less. The cost of not addressing inequalities is immense, but the potential solutions are within our reach, such as redistribution of welfare through taxation or pre-distribution (smaller income differences to start with) like in Japan or international cooperation to tackle tax evasion to gather capital for social investment.

Eight workshops were held to discuss in depth certain key topics, such as investing in policy reforms, pathways to employment, social inclusion, synergies and complementarities, learning and working beyond borders, new ways of work, education and skills, performance results and partnership. 

EUROCITIES voiced the cities’ concerns in two workshops, one on social inclusion and one on social innovation, calling for better access to ESF for cities, a stronger focus on territorial aspects of poverty and social exclusion, and on testing innovative solutions at local level. 

The conference saw strong support for more social innovation and partnerships at local level in the future ESF with the idea of potentially reviving EQUAL, which was a successful programme in 2001-2008. Ringfencing for both transnational partnerships and social innovation at local level in the next programming period was a common message.

The conclusion of the conference was that ESF remains the best programme to show solidarity and we do not need a revolution, but more innovation and simplification.

   Agenda_FINAL_-_with_suggested_speakers_and_moderatorsdownload/preview this file
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EUROCITIES staff contact

Bianca Faragau-Tavares