Cohesion policy must not simply reduce the disparities between regions; it should also contribute to reducing the social inequalities affecting certain population groups, by promoting a society of full employment, equal opportunities, social integration and social cohesion.
The ESF is the key instrument for supporting the implementation of the European employment strategy and it must continue in the future to be an effective instrument for investing in human resources and promoting a high level of quality jobs and social inclusion, within the framework of the "Europe 2020" strategy.
At this time of economic crisis, the European Council's decision to enhance the role of the ESF is particularly important.
The ESF should – as an EU instrument promoting investment in human resources – support the three priorities of the Europe 2020 Strategy: smart, inclusive and sustainable growth.
The principle of partnership, which involves the social partners and other organised civil society organisations, provides the essential guarantee that measures linked to the structural funds, and the European Social Fund in particular, will function properly.
The EESC shares the view that there is a need to improve the assessment, efficiency and the results of fund utilisation. However, in order to achieve this, it is vital to identify indicators and to set both quantitative and qualitative benchmarks as part of a broader framework covering the entire procedure for the implementation of cohesion policy.
There must be enhanced synergies with the European Regional Development Fund and other funds, within which the principles of partnership, non-discrimination and sustainability must be strengthened.
A number of improvements must be made to the implementation of procedures and the practical aspects of accessing ESF funding, in particular by considerably reducing bureaucracy, speeding up the payment system in order to minimise the financial burden for those implementing programmes and simplifying the invoicing and account settlement procedures, through the use of lump sums, for example.
The future ESF must guarantee sufficient resources to implement the "Europe 2020" strategy, by means of innovative funding formulae, such as the direct allocation of funds to targeted measures in the areas of employment and social inclusion to the most vulnerable groups or persons at risk of exclusion.