• The EESC supports the European Commission’s proposal to concentrate funding in regions with the weakest economies, benefiting new Member States in particular; the proposed increase in the budget seems appropriate, given that these resources will now have to be shared by 25 Member States.
• The EESC feels that the redefined objectives are appropriate; restructuring of objectives should be beneficial if programming activities are similarly integrated, and regional priorities should be set for ESF employment policy measures, depending on the structure of unemployment.
• Integrating disadvantaged groups should be a priority, using measures to support social assistance, training and work organisation, and the ESF should support measures to help reform education and training systems, particularly with a view to the needs of a knowledge-based society and improvement of their labour market relevance; the EESC welcomes the intention of the Commission to fully integrate the Community Initiative EQUAL into the ESF.
• The EESC doubts whether annual implementation reports, both on the national strategic frame of reference and on each operational programme, are helpful, and recommends instead that national action plans on implementation of the EU employment guidelines are linked to programming requirements for ESF measures to simplify programming.
• The EESC is pleased to note that structural support will continue to be based on the principles of concentration, programme planning, additionality and partnership, but would like there to be greater emphasis on the special role of the social partners in ESF employment measures, and on the need for their involvement at both central and regional levels.
• The Committee is pleased to see that also non-governmental organisations are given access to the financial support and that the Member States and managing authorities for each operational programme should consult non-governmental organisations as appropriate when planning, implementing and monitoring ESF aid.