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Document 52000AC0085

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Draft Communication from the Commission to the Member States establishing the guidelines for Community Initiative Programmes (CIPs) for which the Member States are invited to submit proposals for support under the Equal initiative'

OJ C 75, 15.3.2000, p. 16–19 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Draft Communication from the Commission to the Member States establishing the guidelines for Community Initiative Programmes (CIPs) for which the Member States are invited to submit proposals for support under the Equal initiative'

Official Journal C 075 , 15/03/2000 P. 0016 - 0019

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the "Draft Communication from the Commission to the Member States establishing the guidelines for Community Initiative Programmes (CIPs) for which the Member States are invited to submit proposals for support under the Equal initiative"

(2000/C 75/07)

On 19 October 1999 the Commission decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned draft communication.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs, and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion unanimously on 11 January 2000. The rapporteur was Mr Sharma.

At its 369th plenary session of 26 and 27 January 2000 (meeting of 26 January), the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 122 votes in favour and no votes against, with five abstentions.

1. Legal basis, content and scope of the proposal

1.1. The legal basis for establishing guidelines for Community Initiative Programmes (CIPs) derives from the Treaty of Amsterdam which includes a new title on employment and provides for a new co-ordinated strategy for employment across Member States. The employment guidelines, based on the four pillars of Employability, Entrepreneurship, Adaptability and Equal Opportunities, when transposed into national action plans for employment (NAPs), provide the framework for financial support at EU level. The aim of this community initiative which is entitled Equal, is to promote new means of combating all forms of discrimination and inequalities in connection with the labour market. This new approach is a direct consequence of Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam which for the first time provides a legal basis for combatting discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, age or sexual orientation, and Article 137 in favour of social inclusion. Equal will also take due account of the social and vocational integration of asylum seekers.

1.2. The objective of the European Employment Strategy (EES) is to arrive at a significant increase in the employment rate in Europe on a lasting basis. This is to be achieved by developing skills and employability of those currently outside the labour market and to address the needs of those already in work but in vulnerable sectors to update and renew their skills. In the Communication the Commission underlines that the capacity for entrepreneurship needs to be broadened and equal participation of men and women in the labour market must be ensured. Action needs to be taken to counter inequalities, discrimination and exclusion, for the jobless and for the employed.

2. General Comments

2.1. The ESC welcomes the commitment to integrate Equal within the overall European Employment Strategy and agree that innovative action in a trans-national context has much to offer.

2.2. The ESC agrees with the emphasis on involvement of local and regional authorities, and greater emphasis on the role of business in the programme. (Paragraph 6). Although business have already participated in the previous community initiatives, they need encouragement by information and awareness campaigns to underline the added value and benefits of company involvement. Companies are often put off by the time they must invest due to heavy bureaucracy of such initiatives. However the importance of the involvement of NGOs and social partners in projects and the programme must not be overlooked. The mainstreaming potential of Equal will be great, and while authorities will be an important factor, the other sectors will also have much to offer which should not be downplayed.

2.3. A move to more strategic projects (paragraph 6) set firmly in both the relevant policy framework and in the local/regional context is welcome. There should, however, remain the possibility of smaller scale, focused projects also being supported and efforts should be made to integrate companies of all sizes including SMEs which constitute the motor for local development. Small projects do have the potential to produce valuable information, whereas large projects may not, but can on occasions become bogged down in organisational detail.

2.4. The ESC supports moves to ensure Equal is fully integrated with other EU programmes (paragraph 8) within and beyond the employment field, and would wish to see the same principle extended to Equal's integration with national and regional policies as well.

2.5. There is a need to ensure that gender equality issues (paragraph 9) are taken into account throughout the implementation of Equal, as well as other equality issues (ethnicity, age, disability etc.) also being treated as "horizontal" concerns. Consideration could be given to some thematic fields which pick up on particular discrimination issues (in the same way as gender is expected to be a specific as well as horizontal theme), particularly in relation to disability. Disability issues have greatly benefited from the Horizon programme, and may become marginalised if treated purely as a horizontal consideration.

2.6. The ESC understands that the thematic fields put forward are indicative at this point (paragraph 9). However, those currently proposed do not cover the full range of areas which should be covered, and in particular do not adequately represent those currently covered by Adapt. The final thematic areas should be more detailed with better explanations of what is meant - vague definitions in previous programmes have led to confusion and inefficiency.

2.7. The process of periodic review of themes (paragraph 11) should be designed in such a way that it can be integrated smoothly with programme implementation, without imposing delays or confusion.

2.8. The Development Partnership models (paragraph 12) should be feasible in all Member States. The importance of their plans being strategic and integrated with other programmes and policies is critical and will require a more sophisticated approach to the messages which potential bidders are given, and to the selection process itself. It will also require thorough information about local/regional/national priorities, which will be an additional requirement for Member State level technical assistance.

2.9. The Committee has taken note of the joint action of 29 April 1999 whereby the Council recognised the desirability of helping asylum seekers who faced repatriation with education and training, which will give them skills useful in their home country(1). Member States should be encouraged by the Commission to ensure that action in respect of asylum seekers should be programmed in the Equal DPs.

2.10. The ESC supports partnerships (with Phare, Tacis and Meda countries (paragraph 17). The rules and regulations governing relationships between Equal DPs and others outside the EU need to be revised and clarified to ensure that all parties are clear as to what to expect and what is possible. There should be reduction in the minimum partner numbers to one, and it is important that all Member States adopt the same policy towards trans-national requirements. This should be communicated clearly to all parties, which is not the case with the current initiatives.

3. Specific comments and recommendations

3.1. II. Actions within Equal CIPs

Models for types of action

3.1.1. In the model put forward where there are three separately identified phases to DP development (paragraph 21), the stages should operate as seamlessly as possible, without unnecessary bureaucracy or delay in the transition from one to another.

Setting up development partnerships

3.1.2. It is essential that during the limited development phase (paragraph 25), information on thematic priority, state of the labour market etc. is available, and that the exact requirements are spelt out clearly to potential applicants. Links with the previous initiatives will also be important, and will require additional dissemination work to ensure that information is available. Connections should also be made with other programmes, in particular Leonardo. This should not mean, however, that only promoters with prior Adapt and Employment experience should (implicitly or explicitly) be selected.

Selection guidelines for implementing CIPs

3.1.3. The criteria set out in paragraph 26 will need to be supplemented with additional information particularly in relation to targeting, evaluation, dissemination and mainstreaming. These elements are so crucial for Equal that partnerships should clearly demonstrate their commitment to them from the very beginning.

The development partnership agreement

3.1.4. The Development Partnership agreement will be a crucial document. Comprehensive guidance should be given to partnerships on what it should contain, and how it should be used throughout the life of the partnership.

Trans-national co-operation

3.1.5. Flexibility in the types of trans-national partnerships should be encouraged. Some should be full partnerships with others following the same theme over the life of the project. Consideration should be given to some information-sharing and possibly joint decision-making between Member States where trans-national partnerships are in place before applications are made.

3.1.6. All Member States should take the same approach to trans-national working, so that conflicting policies do not apply to partners; this has caused considerable problems in the current Employment and Adapt programmes.

Requirement to demonstrate co-funding

3.1.7. Demonstration of available co-funding (paragraph 33) should be reviewed. Current rules governing the source of co-funding, and audit requirements for its demonstration (particularly in relation to SMEs) have been seriously damaging to the operation of many projects and directly contradict the objectives of the Community Initiatives.

Application of ESF rules

3.1.8. Consideration should be given to reducing the administrative burden, simplifying procedures and language, which arises from the application of ESF rules (which are essentially modelled on single year projects), by changing to multi-annual projects. Not only should it be possible to extend project timetables, but longer periods should also be considered from the start. Extensions may not be agreed until late on in project lifetimes, and may be associated with considerable additional administration. There would be merit in allowing some projects up to 5-6 years life, so as to be able to demonstrate results over a period of time. This is essential if the lasting benefits of pilot actions are to be observed.

The implications of increased flexibility of ESF regulations (paragraph 36) need to be thoroughly considered and very clear messages given to promoters (particularly in relation to eligibility). ESF's impact as a whole on the Initiatives should be considered, since many of its governing provisions are out of step with pilot, trans-national action, and act against the spirit of the programme and its ability to deliver.

Dissemination of good practice and mainstreaming of activities

3.1.9. The stronger focus on dissemination (paragraph 37) and increased emphasis on mainstreaming into EU and national programmes are welcomed. Links with national policy should be particularly strongly encouraged, and thought given to appropriate operational and monitoring structures to ensure that this happens. Funding for additional dissemination and mainstreaming (paragraph 38) is a good development, but the decision-making procedure to make this happen should be streamlined and efficient.

Technical assistance

3.1.10. Technical assistance is vital for the effective and efficient running of the programme (paragraphs 40-42). The ESC believes it should be funded at 100 % (as for the EU level technical assistance office.)

3.2. III. Actions at European level

Mechanisms to create an impact at Union level

3.2.1. The ESC supports the proposed actions of a thematic review at Union level, periodic assessment of the value added by Equal to the NAP but considers a creation of new discussion fora over and above those which already exist is a duplication of effort. It will be important to pay more attention to the messages to be delivered, and the audiences, which should receive them; it is all too easy in this environment to start with the medium and not the message.

3.2.2. The roles and responsibilities of the technical assistance office (paragraph 47) should be clearly specified and communicated to all other parties at an early stage, and its relationship to Member State Technical Assistance clarified.

3.3. IV. Programme preparation

Proposed contents of a CIP

3.3.1. The CIP should include, in addition to the items outlined in paragraph 49, a detailed review of the relationship between Equal and the implementation of other EU and national programmes, and also outline measures to be taken to ensure that they work together harmoniously. Member States should consider steps they could take which would reduce overlap and conflicting priorities, and achieve maximum synergy in implementation.

Proposed financial framework for a CIP

3.3.2. The financial framework put forward (paragraph 50) should be simpler than that currently used, in order to avoid lengthy and counter-productive subsequent modifications to the programme.

3.3.3. Intervention rates for DPs should be reviewed and consideration given to higher rates for highly experimental projects. An alternative would be sliding rates over time to allow projects to get started with ESF resources, and move into required co-funding proportions later. This would also test more accurately the sustainability, and thus mainstreaming potential, of project operations.

3.3.4. Monitoring and evaluation arrangements should be reviewed (paragraph 51). They should ensure that ESF type statistical data is modified to include qualitative data which take innovation and piloting into account. Also, DPs should be given much firmer guidance on what type of evaluation they should carry out themselves, with the inclusion of some common items to facilitate comparisons.

3.3.5. The audit process should also be reviewed, with stronger emphasis on accurate and stringent information from the beginning, and use of common systems, rather than the evolutionary "case by case" approach which pertains at present.

Timetable for submission and agreement of CIP plans

3.3.6. The timetables for submission and agreement of plans (paragraph 53), (as indeed for all stages) should be reviewed in the light of what is actually likely to happen, and this should be taken into account in the programme. Current programmes all too often work to fictitious timetables, which all parties know will not be met in practice. This undermines the effectiveness of programmes, and their reputation.

Monitoring and evaluation of national programmes

3.3.7. The role of monitoring committees should be strengthened (paragraph 55), with more structures in place to ensure good quality attendance and the forming of effective links with other key bodies.

3.3.8. As mentioned above, programme level monitoring (paragraph 56) should be reviewed and made more appropriate to the innovative and trans-national nature of the programme, with the inclusion of measures of "soft" outcomes and learning, not just crude output measures.

3.3.9. The timetable for programme evaluation (at both MS and EU level) should ensure that information is available to influence future developments, and does not come too early or too late.

Brussels, 26 January 2000.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee

Beatrice Rangoni Machiavelli

(1) Joint action of 26 April 1999 adopted by the Council on the basis of Article K.3 of the Treaty on European Union, establishing projects and measures to provide practical support in relation to the reception and voluntary repatriation of refugees, displaced persons and asylum seekers, including emergency assistance to persons who have fled as a result of recent events in Kosovo - OJ L 114, 1.5.1999, p. 2; cf Article 5 ( c ).