A long history of support for employment and social policies The European Union (EU) has been investing in people since it first came into being as the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. The Treaty of Rome established the European Social Fund (ESF), which was initially deployed to help workers in economic sectors that were modernising their production
processes. Grants were offered for shortterm retraining courses so that workers could learn new skills. The ESF also made money available for resettlement to help unemployed people move for work. It is estimated that ESF support helped one million people get back to work between 1960 and 1973.
Keeping pace with change
Over the years, the ESF has been reformed and adapted to keep pace with Europe’s needs. In the early 1970s, for example, technical innovation meant that many farm workers were leaving agriculture – they received support to retrain for other jobs. In addition, the ESF started to help people who were looking for work in other EEC countries by funding language courses and advice about living in a foreign country
The spectre of increasing youth unemployment rose in the 1970s, so the ESF was used to help those with few qualifications by funding vocational training schemes. It was also around this time that it started to offer support to specific groups such as women, older workers and disabled people.
The 1980s saw the ESF helping some of Europe’s poorer regions unleash their human potential and reduce imbalances with the richer EEC nations. By the late Eighties, more than half of the ESF’s expenditure was committed to employment schemes in places such as Greece, southern Italy, Portugal and southern Spain.