The EU's Employment and Social Innovation programme (EaSI), a finance instrument intended to promote high quality employment, has strengthened the coordination of action in the areas of employment and inclusion, but its smooth implementation encountered a number of hurdles, an evaluation report drawn up by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) found.
The report stated that EaSI's implementation had been somewhat thwarted by complex and administrative procedures for accessing funding or by the lack of structured information about the programme which led to final beneficiaries being poorly informed about possibilities offered by the programme.
The report, presenting the outcome of consultations with civil society and public authorities in five EU countries, also found that social partners and civil society organisations did not feel that they had been adequately consulted about its implementation.
The ex post evaluation refers to the period between 2014 and 2020 and focuses on its implementation in Austria, France, Hungary, Italy and Lithuania. Respondents were asked to assess EaSI's coherence, effectiveness and inclusiveness of civil society organisations, especially in comparison with other EU and national initiatives or programmes. The European Progress Microfinance Facility (EPMF) was included in the assessment.
We wanted to see whether this programme complemented existing programmes and whether it offered added value for the European Pillar of Social Rights and went beyond the limitations of the country-specific recommendations. There were some cross-cutting objectives: promoting equality programmes and protecting the most vulnerable segments of society, and combating poverty and long-term unemployment, said rapporteur Cinzia Del Rio.
Ms Del Rio said the report pointed to the absolute need for this programme to establish synergies with other European programmes as well as to ensure their complementarity as this was found to be a weak spot.
Another recommendation which emerged concerns the need to improve the promotion of and communication about accessing available funds, as many potential beneficiaries were not aware of the funding opportunities or did not have sufficient knowledge about how to access them. This was the case with SMEs, and with social SMEs in particular.
Even though respondents believe the EaSI projects to be of high quality and relevance, they considered the lack of awareness and knowledge on the different axes of the EaSI programme as one of the main gaps, the report stated, adding that the programme was mainly known only to technicians or intermediaries, and information did not reach final beneficiaries and members of the public.
The recommendations also called for the structured consultation of European, national and local-level civil society organisations at every stage of the EaSI programme's implementation, including exchanges of good practices and transnational experiences.
61% of respondents considered that the EaSI programme had achieved its objectives, the most optimistic of which were employers' organisations, with 83% of them believing EaSI had served its purpose. 67% of civil society representatives shared this view, whilst the programme gained the least favour with workers' organisations, only 42% of which expressed a positive opinion.
The most popular strand in all five countries was PROGRESS, with 42% of respondents considering that their Member State had focused on it, followed by EURES (33%). Only 18% of respondents considered that the Microfinance and Social Entrepreneurship axis had been the centre of attention in their country.
To prepare the report, the EESC consulted over 50 representatives of civil society organisations and public authorities during the fact-finding missions in the five selected countries. An additional 33 contributions were collected through an online questionnaire, which was sent to the business sector, workers' organisations and various interest stakeholders.
The report aimed to inform policymakers about the success of EaSI's implementation. It will be shared with the European Commission and other stakeholders.
The EaSI programme (2014-2020) was a financing instrument designed to promote a high level of quality and sustainable employment, guarantee adequate and decent social protection, combat social exclusion and poverty, and improve working conditions in the Member States and in the other participating countries, i.e. European Free Trade Association/European Economic Area (EFTA/EEA), European Union candidate and pre-candidate countries.
The three axes of the programme were:
- supporting the modernisation of employment and social policies through the PROGRESS axis (EPMF). The EPMF allowed financial intermediaries to apply for loans and equity instruments or guarantees to strengthen their microfinance portfolio;
- job mobility through the EURES axis;
- access to micro-finance and social entrepreneurship with the Microfinance/Social Entrepreneurship axis.
Cross-cutting aims — such as gender equality, non-discrimination and combating poverty and social exclusion —were promoted across all three axes.