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European Social Fund+

Overall budget available

The ESF+ total budget is €99.3 billion

What is the goal of the funding programme?

The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) continues to invest in people, with a strong focus on helping European society face the challenges of recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and its socio-economic impact. Key elements of the ESF+ are the triple transition to a green, sustainable, and digital economy as well as support for the realisation of the European Pillar of Social Rights

How is the funding programme structured?

ESF+ brings together four funding instruments, originally separated in the 2014-2020 programming period, including:

  • the European Social Fund (ESF)
  • the Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD)
  • the Youth Employment Initiative; and
  • the European Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI).

The ESF+ is structured around many priority areas for the 2021-2027 programming period, including:

  • Reskilling and upskilling people for the transition to a green and digital economy
  • Helping children in need with targeted actions to combat child poverty and support the most vulnerable in society, who are suffering from job losses and income reductions, including providing food and basic material assistance to the most deprived.
  • Transnational cooperation for promoting social innovation across the EU. This is a initiative that includes EU-wide, multinational projects to develop, replicate and scale up innovative solutions. It is also establishing a European Competence Centre for social innovation that will collect, assess, develop, validate and disseminate suitable tools and methods for social innovation. The initiative offers mutual learning, capacity-building and networking for ESF Managing Authorities and other relevant stakeholders.
  • Direct support to social innovation through the Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) strand. It builds on the former EaSI programme of 2014-2020, maintaining the focus on evidence-based policy-making and social experimentation, support for enhanced job mobility and the non-financial instrument activities related to the former Microfinance and Social Entrepreneurship axis. This includes support for analytical activities, capacity-building and transnational/cross-border cooperation to strengthen social protection and social inclusion, fair working conditions, equal access to the labour market, social entrepreneurship and labour mobility.

What thematic areas are covered

The ESF+ focuses on employment, education, and skills as well as social inclusion. It seeks to fund local, regional, and national employment and social innovation related projects throughout Europe: from small charity initiatives helping people who experience mental health difficulties to find suitable work, to nationwide projects providing vocational training for everyone.

What is in it for the social economy?

ESF+ is the quintessential EU fund that aims directly (but not only) at social economy organisations. It has been designed with the goal of funding projects that will contribute to a fairer and more sustainable economy, and to a more social Europe. Therefore, ESF+ funds projects that will boost employment, develop skills, foster social inclusion, etc.; themes that are all but too familiar to social economy organisations.

Social economy organisations can thus look at applying to ESF+ generic funding (see the work programme in your country) or to its funds dedicated to the development of the social economy and the social investment arena (ESF+ Social Innovation and ESF+ EaSI).

You could be a social enterprise finding work placements for people with disabilities, an association providing vocational training for individuals facing long-term unemployment or a social enterprise support organisation that aims at boosting social innovation; in all three cases, as a social economy organisation, ESF+ should be one of the first doors you push in your search for EU support.

Who is eligible to apply?

The ESF+ offers funding to various types of beneficiaries:

  • Public administrations.
  • Workers’ and employers’ organisations.
  • Non-Governmental Organisations and charities.
  • Small and medium-sized enterprises.

How to apply?

For funds under shared management like the ESF+, the Member States’ administrations are in charge of the selection and award procedures, and of the monitoring and management, including payments. To prepare and submit your proposal will take a while, so make sure you begin well in advance.

  • You can find instructive information on how to apply for EU funding here.

Where to find more information?

How to contact organisations who manage the programme?

The ESF+ funding is jointly managed by the European Commission and the Member States. Thus, the large majority (€98.5 billion) of the ESF+ budget is allocated under shared management (in partnership) with the Member States. ESF+ Managing Authorities in each country allocate the money to projects, which allows for the funds to be used in the most efficient manner and respond to country and region-specific needs or challenges.

The ESF+ Direct (EaSI) strand is directly managed by the EC. Organisations interested in the EaSI Strand of the ESF+ can respond to the calls for proposals and tenders that are launched by the EC, which are available on the EC Funding & Tenders Portal. Last but not least, international organisations also implement a small part of the programme under indirect management.

More information on ESF+ in your country: Support in your country | European Social Fund Plus (


Organisations who provide support

Many actors at the regional level help in developing the social economy by facilitating access to EU funding; they will provide you with the guidance and the relevant good practices regarding your needs.  Your managing authority can provide you with their contact information.

Background information

History of the programme

The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) is the successor to the European Social Fund (ESF). It is the EU’s main instrument to build a stronger social Europe and promote the creation of fair and sustainable employment for all EU citizens.

Responsible Directorate-General in the European Commission

Leading Directorate-General (DG) is Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL)


2021 - 2027