“By having a good migration and asylum policy, by working together and showing solidarity at EU level, and by using well the EU funds available to support member states, I am sure we will succeed in reaching an inclusive society also for the asylum seekers that are looking for our protection,” Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Marianne Thyssen.
Given the unprecedent high inflow of people in need of international protection coming into the European Union, last September 25th, the Commission held an extraordinary meeting with managing authorities of the ESF (European Social Fund ) and FEAD (Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived). The meeting aimed at discussing how to optimise the use of EU funds to support the integration of asylum seekers and refugees in our societies, starting from the best practices on providing assistance and fostering the integration of refugees.
The migration crisis, which today represents one of the ten political priorities of the Juncker Commission, appeared in a moment when a deep and long lasting economic crisis and European experts and policymakers were discussing how to address the social scars left by the debt crisis, as seen in the high unemployment and deep poverty it created. Unemployment in the Europe stands now at 9.5%. Moreover one in four people are still at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
In this context, the Member State’s fear was that the big flux of migrants (this year over 500.000 people seeking refugee have made their way to Europe) could increase the current inequality in the European Union.
But beyond the immediate logistical challenges and predominant humanitarian concerns, integration of asylum seekers and refugees into our societies and labour markets, could have a positive economic impact in the long term.
Refugees should be seen as potential contributors to the general welfare of the European society.
Welcoming refugees could offer Europe the chance « not only to honour its position as a democratic Union that is wealthy and respectful of tradition, but also to expand its growth prospects, » Patrick Artus, economist at French investment bank Natixis, said in a recent report.
In the same line, OECD study also noted that “integration challenges do not increase with the share of immigrants in the population” and, once immigrants are integrated into a society, their economic contribution is higher than what they receive in terms of social benefits and public costs.
Many migrants have valuable skills that Europe needs. Thus, their working background, gained outside Europe, should be quickly acknowledged and considered as a precious resource, so that they could be easily integrated in the labour market.
Migration management can be successful only if supported by effective policies promoting social inclusion and facilitating integration of asylum seekers and refugees at the national, regional and local level.
In this context, the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) can play an important role in supporting the implementation of social inclusion and labour market integration measures in the Member States.
How do the ESF and the FEAD work and when can they contribute to integrate the asylum-seekers in the European society?
Both funds are run according to the principle of shared management. The European Commission distributes ESF and FEAD funding to Member States and regions (according to each country’s and regional’s needs) in order to finance their operational programmes. Subsequently, the implementation on the ground is than managed by the relevant national authorities.
For both funds, the outline of the spending plan is set up in Operational Programmes designed by the Member states each seven years in line with the financing provisions adopted by the Commission.
The ESF is one of the five European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). Its main objective is improve the employment opportunities of workers living in Europe, integrates disadvantaged people and ensures future life opportunities for all, by investing in European people’s skills.
Asylum seekers and refugees, are explicitly mentioned in the ESF Regulation as one of the target groups that may receive support by the ESF with the aim to facilitate their social inclusion and integration into the labour market. This reference is made in recital (6) of the ESF Regulation which states that the ESF should promote social inclusion and, in this context, « attention should be paid to asylum seekers and refugees to facilitate their participation ».
Therefore, there are 3 cases in which ESF support can be granted to asylum seekers:
- When they are legally able to participate in the labour market. The periods in which asylum seekers have access to the labour market vary across Member States. With this regard, it should be noted that in accordance with Article 15 of Directive 2013/33/EU Member States must ensure that persons who made an application for international protection and for who a decision has not yet been taken, have access to the labour market no later than 9 months from the date when they applied for international protection.
Actually, here are examples of Member States that allowed asylum seekers to enter the labour market in shorter times and are proposing amendments to allow for this.
- For vocational training actions. Directive 2013/33/EU (Article 16) also establishes that Member States may allow applicants access to vocational training irrespective of whether they have access to the labour market. This is possible in case the national legislation provides that these asylum seekers (who applied for international protection in respect of which a decision has not yet been taken) have access to vocational training.
- For actions concerning the education of their children. Finally, with regards to minor children of applicants and applicants who are minors, Directive 2013/33/EU (Article 14) provides that Member States have to grant access to the education system under conditions similar to their nationals until an expulsion
measure against them or their parents is not enforced. Therefore, minor children of asylum seekers or asylum seekers who are minor are eligible for ESF support under the ESF investment priorities on education which address minors (e.g. access to primary and secondary education, tackling early school leaving).
Once the asylum-seekers are to allowed access ESF measures, the ESF investments they can benefit from are:
– Counselling to refugees and their families;
– Vocational or language training, improved access to health and social service;
– Campaigns to combat discrimination against refugees.
During the meeting, the Commission has shown some examples of successful social integration projects across Europe, achieved by the good use of ESF funds:
– In Belgium the ESF has financed the EMINENTA project. This project set up a one-stop-shop to improve the position of high- skilled migrants in the labour market, through the creation of a support centre that established a direct link between employers and high-skilled job seekers immigrants. It offered individualised services for both employers and potential employees. As a great result, it was showed that 65% of the migrants that had received active coaching then found a job.
– In Germany, thanks to ESF funding, the state of Rhineland-Palatinate offers twice as many German language and orientation classes for refugees than in 2014, bringing the total up to 80.
In Delmenhorst, a new ESF-funded project, called “Stark im Beruf” (Strong in employment) is helping mothers immigrated to Germany ore seeking asylum there, to lunch their professional career in this country. The German ministry of Family affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, (Manuela Schwesig) said she wants to use part of the ESF- funds to support this project in 80 locations all over the next four years .
FEAD, it was established by Regulation (EU) No 223/2014 with the specific objective to alleviate the worst forms of poverty in the EU such as homelessness, child poverty and food deprivation. Thus contributing to eradicate poverty in the Union, in line with the Europe 2020 strategy.
Subject to a decision at national level, the assistance to be provided by FEAD may take the following forms:
1) food and/or basic material assistance operational programme, which provides food support and/or other types of material assistance (basic consumer goods of a limited value for the personal use of the recipients);
2) social inclusion operational programmes, which finances social inclusion activities outside active labour market measures.
The exact group or groups of people to be targeted is identified at the national level, according to the definition of ‘most deprived persons’ set out in Article 2(2) of the FEAD Regulation.
Therefore, the eligibility of asylum seekers depends on the way Member States define the type of assistance and who may benefit from this fund. Depending on the criteria used to identify the FEAD recipients, it is possible for asylum seekers to receive assistance.
Also, the duration of the social and material assistance is chosen by Member States. The fact that those decisions have to be taken at the national level represents a limitation to the integration policy.
How much funding is available from ESF and FEAD for member states’ to support refugees?
ESF counts for 86,4 billion of euro of the EU budget that is complemented by national contributions. A minimum of 20% is allocated to social inclusion. The current allocation to the vulnerable groups, including asylum-seekers and refugees, is around 21 billion.
FEAD has an EU budget for 2014-20 of 3.8 billion million euro, complemented by 675 million euro of national co-financing.
Other financial supports
The major role in the initial steps of the migrant integration is played by the “Asile, migration and integration funds” (AMIF).
With a total of 3.137 billion euro for the period 2014-2020, AMIF promotes the efficient management of migration flows and the implementation, as well as the strengthening and the development of a common Union approach to asylum and immigration.
In March 2015, the European Commission announced the approval of 22 new national multiannual programs under the Funds’ Asylum, Migration and Integration » and around 100 million euro will be used to support the EU resettlement program in the period 2014-2015.
The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) complements the ESF in supporting the integration process of refugees. The ERDF can finance measures in several fields, such as, social, health, education, housing and childcare infrastructure. For the years 2014-2020 more than 20 billion euro were allocated to inclusive growth measures.
A it has already been showed for the ESF, also for the ERDF here are some good examples of Member states’ cohesion policy programmes that used the available resources in order to provide support to asylum seekers and refugees.
This is the case of Finland. There, the ERDF has financed for the period 2000-2006 the programme URBAN II. Its objective was to create a Family Centre for Immigrants in Hakunen which offered families various activities to introduce them to society.
In 2005, some 1 050 immigrants and 1 200 people of Finnish origin took part in activities at the Hakunen Centre. Established in 2004 for two years, the project continued in 2007, thus reaching the success which is notably explained by the variety of activities on offer: physical education, “family café”, a youth club, Finnish language classes, conferences, etc.
This is one of the various projects that could and should be transferred to many other European countries to reach an inclusive society and to respond, in real terms, to the current humanitarian emergency.
What’s the limit?
Mentioning the good social results reached by member states optimizing European funds, the European Commission wanted to invite national authorities to revise their cohesion policy programmes. The Commission said to be ready to cooperate closely with member states in order to overcome this unprecedented challenge by examining all the options to optimise the use of funds and all the proposals made by Member State in order to use the remaining funds of the period 2007-2013.
But the problem is that one of the limits that prevents Member states from exploiting the funds, derives from their incapability to present adequate projects and from the bureaucratic inefficiencies at regional level. This is the case of Italy for example. During 2007-2013 programming period, Italy received a total of almost 29 billion euro in European aid (form the ERDF and ESF), but only 50% of these funds was optimally exploited and many of them were often misused. Furthermore, when the funds are not used by the deadline, the resources are automatically withdrawn.
Thus, the difficulties in achieving social inclusion programs are not so much linked to the lack of financial support by Europe, but more to a lack of efficiency by Member States.
Cristina De Martino
-. European Commission Fact sheet:http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-15-5717_en.htm
-. Speech by Commissioner Marianne Thyssen:http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-15-5720_en.htm
-. Integration challenges loom as refugee crisis enters new phase:http://www.euractiv.com/sections/social-europe-jobs/integration-challenges-loom-refugee-crisis-enters-new-phase-317985
-. Good examples of Member states’ cohesion policy programmes http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/finland/opening-its-doors-to-immigrants-integration-is-all-about-meeting-others (FINLAND) http://ec.europa.eu/esf/main.jsp?catId=67&langId=en&newsId=8607 http://ec.europa.eu/esf/main.jsp?catId=67&langId=en&newsId=8593 (GERMANY) http://www.esf-agentschap.be/nl/projectenkaart/eminenta (BELGIUM)
-. About ESF :http://ec.europa.eu/esf/main.jsp?catId=62&langId=en
-. About FEAD: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1089
-. About ERDF: http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/funding/erdf/