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The aim of the Community initiative EQUAL is to promote new ways of combating all forms of discrimination and inequalities in the labour market on the basis of transnational cooperation and to facilitate the social and occupational integration of asylum seekers.
Communication from the Commission to the Member States of 14.04.2000 establishing the guidelines for the Community initiative EQUAL concerning transnational cooperation to promote new means of combating discrimination and inequalities in connection with the labour market [C(2000)853 - Official Journal C 127 of 05.05.2000].
The increasing interdependence of the Member States' economies led to a new employment chapter (Title VIII) being incorporated in the Treaty of Amsterdam. This provides for the development of a European employment strategy and annual adoption of guidelines (2001) which the Member States are asked to take into account in their national policies.
The employment guidelines, which are transposed into national action plans (NAP) for each Member State, are based on four pillars:
The European Union is also developing an integrated strategy to combat social exclusion and discrimination on grounds of sex or sexual orientation, race or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs and disability or age. There are policies and programmes in this area, particularly under Articles 13 (combating discrimination) and 137 of the Treaty (promoting social integration). The Community initiative EQUAL also helps to implement this strategy but is confined to action in the labour market.
The European Commission would like to build on the experience gained with the ADAPT and EMPLOYMENT programmes implemented in the period 1994-1999. For the period 2000-2006, it is therefore including EQUAL in the four new Community initiatives (along with INTERREG III, LEADER+ and URBAN II) presented in Regulation (EC) No 1260/1999 laying down general provisions on the Structural Funds.
The Member States and the Commission jointly cofinance EQUAL. Community funding comes exclusively from the European Social Fund (ESF) and amounts to 3.274 billion euros over seven years. The provisions in the general Regulation on the Structural Funds, especially those on varying the rates of participation by the Community depending on the geographical location of the activities, apply for the purposes of implementing EQUAL.
EQUAL is different from the Structural Funds' programmes under Objective 1, Objective 2 and Objective 3. It constitutes a permanent laboratory for experimentation in developing and disseminating new approaches for implementing employment policies to combat all manner of discrimination and inequalities, including those suffered by asylum seekers. Over time, innovative solutions which have proved to be effective will be disseminated to the authorities responsible so that they can integrate them in the main activities supported by the Structural Funds.
Each Member State presents to the Commission a Community initiative programme (CIP) in which it sets out its strategy and its arrangements for implementing EQUAL. Activities funded under the CIP are broken down into thematic areas and implemented in geographical or sectoral development partnerships. Transnational cooperation, through which added value accrues at European level, helps to foster exchanges of experience and good practice. Innovation is also an integral part of the Community initiative. It may be linked to the process (improvement of existing approaches, new methods and new tools), the aims pursued (objectives which help to identify new or promising qualifications and new sources of employment) or the context (new administrative or political structures and innovatory implementing systems).
The Member States base their EQUAL strategy on specific thematic areas under the four pillars of the employment guidelines (as well as that of "Asylum application"). These can be reviewed every two years in the light of developments in the labour market and are as follows.
Depending on the national circumstances which determine where action is needed most, the Member States choose at least one area under each pillar (barring exceptions). Promoting equal opportunities for men and women forms an integral part of all the thematic areas chosen in addition to having specific actions reserved for it under Pillar 4.
Member States make provision for a minimum amount of action on behalf of asylum seekers, depending on their numbers, who they divide into three categories: 1) those whose applications are currently being examined by the Member State; 2) those who have been accepted under a relocation or humanitarian evacuation programme or under temporary protection arrangements and 3) those who have not been granted the status of refugees but who come under another form of protection (additional or subsidiary protection) because their personal circumstances prevent them from returning to their country of origin. In the European Union, the situation of asylum seekers is problematic. Access to the labour market is prohibited or subject to restrictive conditions. Action specifically for their benefit may take the form of sectoral development partnerships (action by all the relevant partners at national level to fund the integration of these persons) or geographic development partnerships (in an area where there is a relatively large number of asylum seekers). Action on behalf of asylum seekers constitutes the ninth thematic area of the EQUAL initiative in which development partnerships can take action.
Partnerships are an essential component in implementing EQUAL. Development partnerships, which are the ultimate beneficiaries of financial aid, bring together all the parties that are interested and have something to contribute: public authorities at national, regional or local level, local authorities, public employment services, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), enterprises and especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the social partners. All these players cooperate to draw up a strategy for action in each of the thematic areas mentioned above. Together they define and decide upon joint aims (empowerment principle) and seek innovative ways of combating inequality and discrimination.
The Member States define which of the following two types of partnership caters best for national circumstances:
As the ESF is the only Community fund supporting development partnerships, action eligible under other Structural Funds (ERDF, "guidance" section of the EAGGF, FIFG) may attract subsidies as long as they comply with the provisions of the Treaty, especially those concerning State aid.
ACTION TO BE FUNDED
EQUAL will support four different types of activity in each thematic area:
DISSEMINATION AND EVALUATION AT EUROPEAN LEVEL
The Member States, the social partners and the Commission will cooperate to see that good practice in EQUAL feeds through into the European employment strategy. At European Union level, the Commission will make arrangements to assess the impact of Community action in three separate ways:
External service providers chosen on the basis of calls for tender, the total value of which will not exceed 2 % of the ESF contribution, will carry out specific tasks helping to implement EQUAL and receive Community support accounting for 100 % of their total costs.
COMMUNITY INITIATIVE PROGRAMMES
In compliance with the programming principle laid down in the basic regulation on the Structural Funds and on the basis of their indicative financial allocations, the Member States will present to the Commission a draft Community initiative programme (CIP) for implementation of EQUAL within four months of publication in the OJ of this Communication.
Each CIP, which will take the form of a single programming document (DOCUP), will comprise a detailed description of the following components: the current situation with regard to discrimination and inequality in the labour market, an ex ante assessment of the impact expected on the socio-economic situation at local or sectoral level, an implementation strategy based on the selected priorities (with specific action for asylum seekers) and information activities, complementarity between this strategy and the national action plan, local employment pacts and other Community programmes, actions and methods conducive to equal opportunities for men and women, a summary of the lessons learnt from the ADAPT and EMPLOYMENT initiatives, arrangements for technical assistance required to implement the CIP, an indicative financing plan showing the envisaged ESF contribution and the expected public and private support, consultation process for all the partners in decision making, arrangements for monitoring, control and evaluation of the implementation of EQUAL (calls for proposals, contracts awarded to the final beneficiaries, integration in policies or mainstreaming, composition of the Monitoring Committee, collection of data and indicators necessary for permanent assessment).
Following a negotiation period of five months, the Commission will approve each CIP by means of a decision confirming allocation of a contribution from the ESF. An additional programming schedule is then added for each CIP.
For more information on the Structural Funds, please consult the EQUAL site of the Directorate-General of Employment and Social Affairs.
Proposal for a Council Regulation laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund [COM(2004) 492 final].
Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Regional Development Fund [COM(2004) 495 final].
Act concerning the conditions of accession of the Czech Republic, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Cyprus, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Republic of Hungary, the Republic of Malta, the Republic of Poland, the Republic of Slovenia and the Slovak Republic and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the European Union is founded - Annex II:List referred to in Article 20 of the Act of Accession - 15. Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments This Act provides for commitment appropriations for EQUAL amounting to 223 million euro for the ten new Member States between 1 May 2004 and 31 December 2006.
Communication from the Commission establishing the guidelines for the second round of the Community Initiative EQUAL [COM(2003) 840 of 30.12.2003]
Commission Decision C/2000/1221 of 12.05.2000 establishing an indicative distribution by Member State of the commitment appropriations under the Community initiative EQUAL for 2000-2006.
DECISIONS APPROVING THE CIPs:- Decision C/2001/31 of 08.3.2001 (Denmark)- Decision C/2001/33 of 08.3.2001 (France)- Decision C/2001/34 of 09.3.2001 (Greece)- Decision C/2001/35 of 08.3.2001 (United Kingdom)- Decision C/2001/36 of 22.3.2001 (Spain)- Decision C/2001/37 of 09.3.2001 (Sweden)- Decision C/2001/40 of 26.3.2001 (Belgium - French and German-speaking communities)- Decision C/2001/41 of 16.3.2001 (Finland)- Decision C/2001/42 of 22.3.2001 (Luxembourg)- Decision C/2001/43 of 26.3.2001 (Italy)- Decision C/2001/579 of 30.3.2001 (Netherlands)- Decision C/2001/580 of 29.3.2001 (Portugal)- Decision C/2001/581 of 30.3.2001 (Belgium - Flemish-speaking community)- Decision C/2001/582 of 18.4.2001 (Germany)- Decision C/2001/585 of 02.5.2001 (Austria)- Decision C/2001/586 of 02.5.2001 (Northern Ireland)- Decision C/2001/588 of 22.5.2001 (Ireland)
Opinion of the Committee of Regions [Official Journal C 156 of 06.06.2000]
Decision - C(2000) 1382 [not published in the Official Journal]On 24 May 2000, the Commission adopted the decision on the allocation of a contribution from the European Social Fund to funding a set of actions in the form of an overall subsidy implemented pursuant to the Community assistance provided for in the context of the Social Fund (Action under Article 6(1)(e)) of Regulation (EC) No 1784/99 of the European Parliament and the Council of 12 July 1999.
Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions establishing the guidelines for the second round of the Community initiative EQUAL concerning transnational cooperation to promote new means of combating all forms of discrimination and inequalities in connection with the labour market - "Free movement of good ideas" [COM(2003) 840 - Not published in the Official Journal].
The Commission takes stock of the early results of EQUAL, pointing to promising practices which can already contribute to new ways of tackling discrimination and inequality in the labour market, and setting the scene for the second round of EQUAL, which starts in 2004 with the participation of the 10 acceding countries.
The principles and architecture of the second round are the same as for the first round. The thematic approach is retained. The promotion of equality between men and women remains integral to all thematic fields as well as being targeted through specific actions. The Commission is planning to open up a "transnationality window" from 1 January 2005, consisting of the publication in the EQUAL Common Data Base (ECDB) of information on Development Partnerships selected by the Member States, thus giving all Development Partnerships an equal chance to find transnational partners.
The Commission also presents recommendations with a view to enhancing the effectiveness of EQUAL, especially by simplifying the administrative side.
Last updated: 01.08.2005