European Social Fund - aims, priorities and functioning 

What is the European Social Fund?

The European Social Fund (ESF) is the EU’s most important instrument for helping EU citizens with finding better jobs and for ensuring fairer job opportunities for all. Both individuals and organisations can apply for funding for an employment-related project.

It is playing an important role in meeting Europe’s goals of more and better jobs as well as in promoting an inclusive society, and in mitigating the consequences of the economic crisis – particularly the increase of unemployment and poverty.

In order to achieve these goals, the ESF funds tens of thousands of local, regional and national employment-related projects all over Europe. There is a great variety in the size, nature and goals of ESF projects that aim to reach different target groups, for example young and older job-seekers, future entrepreneurs, education systems, teachers and schoolchildren.

More information on the ESF and its activities can be found here:

This website is available in all EU languages. The language version can be changed in the top right corner of the page.


What are its priorities?

The European Commission and EU member states decide jointly on the ESF’s priorities and on how the resources are spent.

Several general priorities have been established: One is to provide workers with new skills in order to allow them to adapt more easily to the demands of the labour market. Others aim at improving access to employment, for example by helping young Europeans move from school to work or by training less-skilled job-seekers in all phases of life in order to improve their professional opportunities. Another priority is to help people from disadvantaged groups to gain employment. This is part of the goal to enhance ‘social inclusion’, as creating better employability can help people to integrate better into society and is a crucial factor in the fight against poverty.

More detailed priorities are established by the EU member state. These can be found in the ‘Support in your country’ section of the main website of the European Commission on the topic of the ESF. Click on your country to find further information on the priorities in the right margin of the country page.


ESF application process 

How can I apply for ESF funding?

ESF funding is available through the Member States and regions. The European Commission is not responsible for the distribution of funds, but only makes them available to its Member states.

Both organisations and individuals that would like to obtain ESF funding for a project should contact the ESF Managing Authority in their country or region in order to receive information on the application process. To find the relevant ESF contact addresses, please visit the ‘Support in your country’ section. The link to the page with national and regional ESF contact points can be found in the right margin. Employment services are also a good source of information on funding opportunities available under the ESF. 

The following FAQ docment on the ESF established by the European Commission provides further information:

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