human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Funding social services in Europe

Insights on future funding programmes

Many of you will have first-hand experience of how EU funding programmes play a key role in supporting and developing the quality of social service provision. Some of you will also be aware that future versions of the funding programmes for the period 2021 -2027 were proposed last year. But perhaps, not so many of you are aware of what has happened since then, and that the programmes have now entered the final, and probably critical, stage of negotiations.

In addition, SSE has been advocating for the simplification of rules and procedures of the programmes to make them more accessible, especially for small organisations that may lack the capacity to manage complex procedures.

We started our work with the publication of the document “Enabling social services through the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) post-2020: a European imperative” in response to the European Commission’s first proposal of priorities for the programmes. In this publication, we explain how investing in social services can contribute to implementing the fundamental principles gathered in the European Pillar of Social Rights and address specific social challenges highlighted by the Commission. Following the proposal of the European Commission for a new MFF, we published a document with our initial remarks regarding the proposals.

After that, we have been intensively advocating for amendments to three main pieces of legislation that will be key to support and develop social services, and build a more social Europe:

The European Social Fund+ (ESF+) aims to improve workers’ mobility and employment opportunities, strengthen social cohesion, improve social fairness, and increase competitiveness across Europe. It is designed to be a merger of the existing European Social Fund (ESF), the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), the Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD), the Employment and Social Innovation Programme (EaSI), and the EU Health Programme. Along the same lines as the Common Provisions Regulation (CPR), this merger aims to streamline and simplify existing rules across the different funds, and increase synergies between them. Therefore, it aims to make it easier for beneficiaries to access funding, to combine different types of measures, and simplify funding management.

The new Common Provisions Regulation (CPR) promotes the creation of a single rulebook that will cover all ‘Cohesion Policy’ funds, which includes the ESF+. The simplification of the rules, among other positive aspects, is designed to ensure easier access to, and management of, EU funds. It will also ensure that they are used only to support EU policy objectives; including those linked to the European Pillar of Social Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The InvestEU fund will aim to mobilise public and private investment through a €47.5 billion total guarantee that will back the investment projects of financial partners (the European Investment Bank Group, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank, the Council of Europe Bank and national promotional banks), and increase their ability to fund potentially risky investments. With the initial amount of €47.5 billion, the programme is expected to mobilise €650 billion in additional investment over the period 2021-2027. T

Social Services Europe welcomed the proposals from the European Commission, but still saw room for improvement. For example, lowering the EU co-financing rates to increase national ownership of EU-funded projects could actually lead to a significant decrease in the final amount invested. Also, although we welcomed the general approach to simplification, we insisted that this needs to be reflected in the processes that local service providers deal with, and not be limited to the conditions of the managing authorities of the funds.

The input of SSE contributed to achieving increases in the ESF+ budget, the earmarking of part of that budget for social inclusion, and the addressing of material deprivation.

The current European Parliament’s position on the ESF+ and the CPR has been agreed and passed on to the Member States for negotiation, with a vote regarding InvestEU being held in the Parliament on the 17th April. However, even if we welcome the progress of these initiatives so far, the proximity of the upcoming European Parliament elections presents the prospect of a different parliamentary configuration which could potentially disrupt the process of adopting the programmes and thus delay their implementation at national or regional level.

Social Services Europe will therefore monitor developments in the negotiations and work with partners to ensure that the new European parliament does not try to change what the previous parliament had agreed on. Otherwise, a disruption could easily lead to the programmes to not be  ready in time for implementation in 2021 and thus cause a gap in the funding of initiatives in the social sector. All voters in the EU can also consider this issue when choosing their future Members of the European Parliament – one more reason to exercise that power to vote.

About the author

Laura Jones (UK)  has been Secretary General of EPR since April 2015. She is also the current President of Social Services Europe. Social Services Europe is the largest network of not-for-profit social and healthcare providers at EU level, representing over 100,000 organisations through its 8 members: Caritas Europa, CEDAG, EASPD, EPR, Eurodiaconia, FEANTSA, the Red Cross EU Office and SOLIDAR. Social Services Europe seeks to ensure that the specificity of not-for-profit social and healthcare service providers is recognised, and the economic, social and legal conditions exist for quality social and healthcare services.

Before joining the EPR, Laura worked at Eurodiaconia as policy and membership officer (2006-2015) and at the European Parliament as MEP assistant. Between 2009 and 2013 Laura also served as Vice-Chair of the Working Group on Services of General Interest at Social Platform. Laura holds a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and French by the University of Bristol and a Postgraduate certificate of MBA by the Open University of the UK.

Note: The views expressed here are only those of the author and cannot be attributed in any way to the organisation he works for or any of that organisation’s bodies or institutions.

Alternative Text


Laura Jones

President, Social Services Europe
Secretary General, European Platform for Rehabilitation

Tester 2Tester 4Tester 6