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Document 52005AE0386

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Community Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity — PROGRESS (COM(2004) 488 final)

OJ C 255, 14.10.2005, p. 67–72 (ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, NL, PL, PT, SK, SL, FI, SV)



Official Journal of the European Union

C 255/67

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Community Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity — PROGRESS

(COM(2004) 488 final)

(2005/C 255/13)

On 9 September 2004 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned communication.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 15 March 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Greif.

At its 416th plenary session held on 6 and 7 April 2005 (meeting of 6 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 127 votes to 2 with 17 abstentions.

1.   Background and key points of the PROGRESS Community Programme


In its Communication on the 2007-2013 financial perspective (1), the Commission highlights the crucial importance of the social policy agenda to implementing the Lisbon strategy. In this context, the Commission adopted a package of proposals in July 2004 that were designed to simplify and streamline employment and social policy spending in the EU, especially in respect of the financial rules.


According to the Commission, the proposed rationalisation should enhance the visibility, clarity and coherence of the instruments concerned and thus benefit above all the end-user. This is to be achieved mainly by simplifying instruments in legal and management terms, and by streamlining the budget structure and avoiding duplication.

The reduction in red tape, paring of rules and greater decentralisation should thus make the new European Social Fund (ESF, 2007-2013) easier to administer and better equipped to link funding with strategies to promote employment and consolidate economic and social cohesion in the context of the European Employment Strategy (EES) (2).

The Commission is also endeavouring to improve the distribution of resources by merging existing programmes into coherent programmes with harmonised implementing provisions. One aim of this is to reduce from 28 to two the number of budget lines relating to employment and social policy that are directly managed by the Commission.


One of the new instruments in question is the Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity, or PROGRESS (3), which is the subject of Communication COM(2004) 488 final. This programme is intended to streamline funding for a large number of measures that support Commission employment and social policy. The only matter excluded from PROGRESS is the financing of ‘social dialogue’ and ‘free movement of workers’ (4), Community bodies responsible for employment conditions (5), and the planned European Gender Institute (6). Thus PROGRESS is a way of bringing together the following specific Community action programmes: combating discrimination, gender equality, cooperation to combat social exclusion and incentive measures in the field of employment, as well as a number of budget lines relating to working conditions.


Under the programme for 2007-2013, which has a budget of nearly EUR 629 million and is intended to complement ESF measures, with different priorities for the various programme sections, support is to be provided for three broad types of measure:

analytical activities (e.g. collecting and disseminating data; carrying out studies, analyses and impact assessments; and developing statistical methods and evaluations) that enhance understanding of the issues involved, make for more effective implementation in the various spheres funded, and improve coordination with other EU policy areas and strategies;

activities involving mutual learning, exchange of information, awareness-raising, and identifying and promoting good practice, as well as measures relating to monitoring and evaluation, e.g. assessment by independent experts (peer review), which should help to establish the state of play in the Member States and thus also to improve the application of EU rules;

supporting key players in order to promote exchange of good practice, information provision, preventive and awareness-raising measures, as well as discussion processes, e.g. by setting up working parties of national officials, developing networking at EU level or funding networks of experts in the various spheres of activity.


The programme is to be divided into five sections:

employment: supporting implementation of the European Employment Strategy (EES), in particular by evaluating and monitoring implementation of the European Employment Guidelines and Recommendations, studying the interaction between the EES and other policy areas, and raising awareness of employment-policy challenges faced by regional and local players;

social protection and social inclusion: supporting implementation of the open coordination method in this sphere, as well as improving understanding of all aspects of poverty and analysing the link between this goal and other policy areas;

working conditions: supporting activities aimed at improving the working environment and working conditions, including safety and health at work;

antidiscrimination and diversity: promoting effective application of the non-discrimination principle in Article 13 of the EU Treaty, and incorporating this principle into all EU strategies;

gender equality: effectively applying the principle of gender equality and promoting gender mainstreaming in EU strategies.


The programme is open to public and private bodies and actors. It is aimed in particular at the Member States, local and regional authorities, public employment services and national statistics offices. Specialised bodies, universities and research institutes, as well as the social partners and non-governmental organisations, may also take part.

EU assistance will take the form either of a service contract granted further to a call for tender or of a subsidy amounting to no more than 80 % of costs following a call for project proposals.

PROGRESS is to be managed by a single programme committee, replacing the current four (one for each of the four action programmes).


A total of EUR 628.8 million has been budgeted for the seven-year programming period. This breaks down as follows over the programme sections:

Employment: 21 %

Social protection and inclusion: 28 %

Working conditions: 8 % (7)

Antidiscrimination and diversity: 23 %

Gender equality: 8 % (8).

A maximum of 2 % of the total budget has been earmarked for administrative expenses, notably the programme committee that will oversee PROGRESS. Ten percent of the total budget (EUR 62.9 million, or about EUR 9.2 million per year) is not allocated to a particular programme section, but kept as a ‘reserve’ to be allocated by the programme committee to the programme sections each year in accordance with future developments arising over the course of the programme.

General objectives of PROGRESS: overview

Improving the knowledge and understanding of the situation prevailing in the Member States through analysis, evaluation and monitoring of measures

Promoting the development of statistical tools, methods and indicators

Supporting and monitoring the implementation of EU law and policy objectives in the Member States and assessing their impact

Promoting networking, mutual learning, and identification and dissemination of good practice at EU level

Raising awareness of stakeholders and the general public about strategies pursued under PROGRESS

Improving the ability of the main EU networks to promote and support Community strategies

2.   General and specific comments on the Commission's proposal


If enhanced competitiveness in a knowledge-based economy is really to be accompanied by sustainable job-creating economic growth, with better quality of employment and greater social cohesion, as set out in the Lisbon strategy, then it is crucial that adequate financial resources and instruments be provided for in all the policy areas relevant to PROGRESS. The EESC therefore explicitly welcomes the present Commission proposal on PROGRESS 2007-2013, and takes great interest in the initiative, especially in the light of current contributions to the Lisbon mid-term review, since this framework programme will be one of the key funding instruments, alongside the ESF, for the 2006-2010 social policy agenda, which is currently also in the process of adoption. Despite its generally positive assessment of PROGRESS, the Committee would like to follow up its general comments on this new Community financial instrument with some reservations about specific points of the Commission document that it feels require further clarification and explanation in the proposal for a decision.

2.2   General objectives of the programme


In the light of the Lisbon strategy, the EESC is pleased that the proposal (without prejudice to ongoing discussions about the priorities and form of the 2007-2013 financial perspective) clearly emphasises the need to maintain existing Community funding in the sphere of employment and social policy.


Bringing all those Community financial instruments for social and employment policy for which the Commission has direct administrative responsibility more closely together within a single framework programme can certainly be seen as a way of ensuring adequate funding for strengthening the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy and especially also as a means of coordinating spheres of social policy under the social policy agenda.


The EESC broadly endorses the general objectives set out in Article 2 of the proposal. However, it would recommend that the promotion of cross-border exchanges of stakeholders active in the sphere of social policy should also be explicitly mentioned as an objective, since for many potential PROGRESS applicants it is a key point of reference for taking part in EU projects.


In this context, the EESC does not fully understand why Article 2 (4) of the proposal refers to promoting networking only ‘at EU level’. We think that the list of general PROGRESS objectives should be expanded in order to ensure that the mutual learning to be promoted through PROGRESS is not limited to actors at EU level but also includes support for cross-border exchanges of relevant stakeholders bilaterally and multilaterally between individual Member States. The EESC also thinks it is necessary to include ‘better understanding of all types of discrimination’ as an explicit objective in Article 8.

2.3   Coherence and complementarity with other policy areas


The new programme must be seen as part of the ‘streamlining’ drive pursued by the Commission since 2003 in respect of economic and social policy, and, in this case, of employment policy in particular. In this context, Article 15 of the present proposal for a decision — which refers to mechanisms and activities of the Commission and the Member States for coordinating PROGRESS activities with other Community and EU policies, instruments and actions — seems inadequate, because it covers only a narrow policy area. Research, justice and home affairs, culture, education, training and youth policy are important areas for action, which certainly need to be coordinated with employment, education and training, and social security, but other areas, such as regional and cohesion policy, are completely omitted.


The Committee believes that PROGRESS should also be linked to other policy areas which have just as much impact — at least — on the employment situation and social inclusion, equal opportunities, etc. In particular, as well as prioritising education and training and lifelong learning, coordination with strategies and activities relating to economic, financial and competition policy should also be required here, in order to ensure that these policies at European and national level do not conflict with the general objectives of the programme. The EESC therefore recommends making appropriate additions in Articles 15(1) and 15(2) of the proposal.

2.4   Financial framework


As well as the overall financial framework of EUR 628.8 million for implementing Community activities for the seven-year programming period, in Article 17 of the proposal the Commission also sets out minimum percentage appropriations for each programme section. In the EESC's view, the Commission fails to clearly set out how the projected budget figures for the programme as a whole fit with the current funding situation for the existing Action Programmes. It would be useful to have comparative data on the ongoing Action Programmes here, especially so as to be able to estimate whether adequate allowance has been made for inflation and in what way and to what extent the current and future enlargements (EU-25 plus Bulgaria and Romania) have been taken into consideration in setting the budget. At present only unofficial information is available from the Commission about this.


In the context of the current mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy and given the broad scope of the programme, the EESC seriously questions the Commission's endeavour to maintain the budgetary status quo in the policy areas covered by PROGRESS. The third paragraph of Section 2 of the Commission's explanatory memorandum refers to the provision of ‘modest financial means’ to support the social policy agenda. The Committee does not understand this reasoning at all; it has more than once noted the need to allow for ‘Lisbonisation of the EU budget’ in the context of the financial perspective, since it must at any rate be made clear that adequate financial resources will be made available to achieve the objectives of both the European Employment Strategy and the social policy agenda. (9) The EESC therefore strongly recommends that adequate resources be provided for in the projected budget for PROGRESS.


In addition, Article 17 sets an upper limit of 2 % of the total PROGRESS budget (i.e. EUR 12.6 million) for administrative expenditure and earmarks 10 % (i.e. EUR 62.9 million, or EUR 9.2 million per year) as a reserve for annual allocation by the programme committee between the programme sections. Although the EESC realises that a degree of flexibility is required for a seven-year programming period to accommodate future developments, we still feel it is important to insist on the need for full transparency and European Parliament involvement in such largely autonomous management of ‘flexible’ funds by the Commission and the Member States.


The Committee also thinks that the proposed division of funding between the different PROGRESS sections should be more specific. For instance, Article 8 establishes ‘gender equality’ as a section of the PROGRESS programme. However, this section receives a considerably smaller appropriation (Article 17) than the other objectives. What is the justification for this? The explanation that the budget for a gender institute which is to be set up (EUR 52.7 million) has been deducted from the PROGRESS programme is not persuasive, not least since the remit, structure and working methods of the gender institute have not even been established. The Committee feels that is objectively quite indefensible to restrict resources in the sphere of equality and equal opportunities policy in this way, in view, among other things, of the Lisbon objective on female employment, the disadvantaged position of women in the labour market, wage discrimination and gender mainstreaming. We therefore urge that the funding earmarked for the Gender Institute should not be deducted from the total PROGRESS financial framework, as the current proposal evidently intends, but that separate funding be provided for.

2.5   Rationalisation at Commission level


The objectives of simplification and rationalisation represent an extension to support policy of the ‘streamlining’ the Commission has been pursuing since 2003 in the spheres of social protection and employment. The Committee in principle endorses simplification and rationalisation, provided they really do result in cost savings, prevent duplication and improve administrative clarity and transparency.


However, the Committee sees certain difficulties here with the shift from clearly defined, specific programmes to a single, much larger programme that may be less easy to manage. Given the extremely wide range of areas covered by this new programme, does it make sense for similar objectives to apply for each programme section? Is the projected budget even sufficient to cover these? Steps must in any case be taken to ensure that, in view of the broad scope of the programme, administrative simplification does not mean forfeiting necessary priority-setting in the various programme sections. It is important to ensure that the declared administrative simplification results not just in better technical programme management but also in an appropriate structure that is favourable for the target groups.

2.6   The programme committee and the role of the Member States


Article 13 of the proposal states that the Commission is to be assisted in implementing the programme by a single committee, replacing the current four committees (one for each action programme). Membership of this committee is to vary, with different national representatives meeting according to the matter in hand.


The question arises of how such a committee should work and what its membership should be in order to ensure that the general and specific objectives are properly and promptly addressed in each of the five programme areas. Will not this require a lot more red tape, and above all a need for considerable interministerial coordination at Member State level? What implications does this have for small, and in this case especially, new Member States? Care should be taken in general that rationalisation at Commission level does not cause administrative problems for the Member States and that appropriate account is taken of the social partners and other civil society organisations in programme management.


The EESC also notes that rationalisation must not result in corner-cutting when implementing the programme, especially as regards the transparency of the committee's work in connection with the programme, and the input of the Member States into decision-making processes and project selection. It is at any rate necessary to ensure proper management, efficacy and participation, as well as adequate monitoring and follow-up by the Commission, in qualitative and quantitative terms.

2.7   Simplification for users and access to the programme


According to the Commission, the proposed rationalisation should enhance the visibility, clarity and coherence of the instruments concerned, benefiting above all the end-user. Potential users should find it easier to apply for funding under the different sections of the new programme thanks to standardised procedures and harmonised implementing provisions. End-users are therefore to have access to a ‘one stop shop’; this is important when, for instance, a project is geared towards the objectives of more than one programme sector.


However, without knowing the specific implementing provisions, it is in many cases difficult to establish the extent to which an idea for rationalising and improving resource distribution combines the different types of objectives: (a) a larger, centralised programme structure; (b) lean, efficient management at every level (Commission, Member States, project promoters); (c) reporting and financial security requirements; (d) as direct and open access to the programme as possible for all target groups. This calls for an active strategy with respect to implementing provisions in order to overcome anticipated conflicts between objectives. The Committee believes that the success of the new programme will be strongly determined by whether the heralded simplification also translates into benefits for the user. The Committee therefore thinks that the implementing provisions to be adopted (especially the ‘one-stop shop’) will largely determine whether the objectives of simplification and rationalisation can really be achieved as an ‘added value’ for users.


The ‘proximity’ of Community resource allocation will thus have to be measured above all by how much easier access to the programme and to projects becomes for informed applicants, and whether it is possible to prevent project access becoming restricted. The broader scope of the programme, experience with other action programmes and Community initiatives, and current experience with the Commission's new financial rules, show that measures are needed to ensure that the implementing provisions do not have a prohibitive effect on smaller-scale applicants. The question is therefore what ‘compensatory’ measures could be taken here to guarantee that, despite growing paperwork requirements (e.g. provision of bank guarantees, credit tests, audit certificates), PROGRESS remains not only useful, but also attractive and accessible, for civil society organisations without project specialists and complex accounting systems.

2.8   Cooperation with civil society organisations


Article 9(2) (Types of Action) requires that actions under the heading ‘Mutual learning, Awareness and Dissemination activities’ should have a ‘strong EU dimension’, ‘an appropriate scale’, and ‘real EU added-value’, and restricts responsibility for such actions, inter alia to ‘(sub)national authorities’. These criteria are vague, leaving considerable room for interpretation. The Committee therefore recommends ensuring that the strict use of these criteria in calls to tender/applications does not result in activities being markedly restricted, for instance to large-scale projects and thus to certain target groups and stakeholders.


In Article 2(5) of the proposal, enhancing awareness of stakeholders and the general public about EU policies is given as a general objective of PROGRESS. This can only succeed if the whole spectrum of relevant stakeholders, at European, national and local level, in the social policy programme areas are able to continue developing their activities. The Committee endorses simplification and rationalisation in this context particularly where they facilitate access for all stakeholders, not least the social partners and other civil society organisations, and do not result in more restricted access to Community funding.


The EESC is therefore concerned that in the list of stakeholders mentioned as having access to PROGRESS, NGOs have been restricted to those operating at EU level. Article 10 (Access to the programme) does not mention NGOs at national level. Although bodies organised at European level play an important role, the Committee feels that the main scope for genuine dialogue, networking, identifying and promoting good practice, as well as mutual learning, is between organisations with experience of a particular field and operating at national, regional and local levels. In the Committee's view, engaging in transnational activity and enabling the sharing of experience in the EU is just as important for such organisations as having official status at European level. The Committee would therefore suggest rewording the Commission's text so that any NGOs engaging in activity of European relevance are eligible.


The Committee therefore calls for appropriate clarifications and alignment of Articles 2, 9 and 10 in the proposal for a decision, in order to safeguard one of overarching goals mentioned by the Commission, namely cooperation with civil society organisations.

3.   Summary


Overall, the EESC welcomes the Commission's proposal on PROGRESS 2007-2013, and takes considerable interest in this initiative particularly in the context of the current contributions to the Lisbon mid-term review. This Framework Programme is one of the key funding instruments in the sphere of social policy and employment, extending beyond the timeframe of the recently adopted 2006-2010 Social Policy Agenda. Because of the consequent long-term implications alone, the Committee has reservations about a number of specific points of the Commission document that require further clarification and explanation in the proposal for a decision.


The problems concern in particular: (a) consistency with other policy areas of the Community, (b) budget allocations and their distribution, (c) broad access and usefulness to users despite rationalisation at Commission level, (d) transparency and participation in the programme committee, and (e) civil society involvement.


The EESC hopes that, in view of the Lisbon objectives, especially those concerning the financial framework, its comments on these points will be taken into account in further decisions on PROGRESS.

Brussels, 6 April 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND

(1)  Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament Building our common future – policy challenges and budgetary means of the enlarged Union 2007-2013 (COM(2004) 101 final)

(2)  See the EESC opinion on the European Social Fund and related programmes, adopted at the plenary session held on 9 March 2005 (rapporteur: Mrs Engeler-Kefer).

(3)  PROGRESS stands for Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity

(4)  Proposals on providing financial support for social dialogue and free movement of workers (especially the EURES network), and studies and reports on social policy costing EUR 480 million, will be presented at a later date in a separate communication.

(5)  The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Dublin) and the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (Bilbao).

(6)  The purpose of the European Gender Institute (EGI) is to provide the Union and Member States with comparable information and data on questions of gender equality and to promote the development, analysis and distribution of information on promoting gender equality. The Commission plans to issue a communication on the matter at the beginning of 2005.

(7)  A further EUR 266.4 million in funding is earmarked under the heading of working conditions for the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Dublin) and the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (Bilbao).

(8)  In addition, the Commission announces in the explanatory memorandum of the draft decision on PROGRESS that it will shortly put forward a proposal on gender equality with a view to setting up a European Gender Institute (EGI), with a planned budget of EUR 52.7 million for 2007-2013. Establishment of the Gender Institute should be budget-neutral, since this sum has already been deducted from the proposed funding for the PROGRESS programme.

(9)  See EESC opinion of 9.2.2005: Employment policy: the role of the EESC following the enlargement of the EU and from the point of view of the Lisbon Process (rapporteur: Mr Greif), point 6.8.