The European Social Fund

The European Social Fund (ESF), one of the European Structural and Investment Funds, aims at enhancing employment and fairer life opportunities for all. It is the EU’s main tool for helping people to get a job (or a better job), integrating disadvantaged people into society and ensuring fairer life opportunities for all. It does this by investing in Europe’s people and their skills – employed and jobless, young and old.

The ESF has an overall budget of EUR 120.4 billion for 2014-2020. This support is targeted towards some 15 million people each year to enter into the job market or to improve their skills to find work in the future or for better social integration of certain disadvantaged individuals.

For further information about ESF, please visit the ESF website.

For preliminary information about financial instruments under the ESF, please consult the fi-compass factsheet on ESF financial instruments.

Financial instruments and the ESF

On this website, ESF stakeholders can find a lot of useful and interesting information to improve their decision-making about financial instruments. 

For example:

Publications, including the Survey on current experiences and future views for ESF financial instruments under the ESF, a manual introducing financial instruments for the ESF, which gives an overview of the scope for financial instruments to promote inclusion, sustainable jobs and better education, and fi-compass manuals and factsheets on a number of topics, like social bonds, State aid applied to ESF financial instruments, microfinancesocial entrepreneurship and personal loans, which dig deep into specific themes and help in further spreading the use of financial instruments within the ESF.

Event materials, such as presentations from the fi-compass ESF Conference 'Financial instruments funded by the European Social Fund – Boosting social impact (Brussels, 2018) or the material presented in thematic workshops like the Thematic workshop on social innovation and entrepreneurship held in Lisbon in 2019 or The role of social financial intermediaries in deploying financial instruments (Brussels, 2017).


Case studies, including first-hand knowledge from social economy and entrepreneurship promotion instruments, like the Entrepreneurship Promotion Fund in Lithuania, or the Italian SELFIEmployment, a financial instrument dedicated to NEETs, that can be found in the fi-compass website's library.

News articles provide updates on the latest developments relevant to the use of ESF financial instruments.

ESF+ under the 2021-2027 Multiannual financial framework

The European Social Fund Plus brings together the existing European Social Fund with the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI), the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) and the Fund for Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD). It will aim to strengthen Europe’s social dimension, by putting the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights into practice through 11 specific objectives.

ESF+ and its 11 specific objectives

The EC adopted its new ESF+ Regulation (regulation EU 2021/1057) on 30 June 2021. The new 'simpler but stronger’ version of the existing European Social Fund will concentrate on the challenges identified under the European Semester, in particular in order to meet the social and employment challenges following the COVID-19 outbreak and with a strengthened focus on social innovation.
In order to respond to these challenges, ESF+ financing will be more flexible in order to respond to the social and economic challenges in Member States.

The ESF+ Regulation requires Member States to allocate at least 25% of ESF+ funding to measures fostering social inclusion and targeting those most in need.

Furthermore, Member States with an above Union average rate of people aged 15 – 29 not in employment, education or training should invest at least 12.5%  of their ESF+ resources to targeted actions to support young people.

The ESF+ will also help to tackle child poverty. No child can be left behind in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. The amended ESF+ proposal requires all Member States to allocate at least 5% of their ESF+ resources to implement measures that reduce child poverty.

Relevant resources

ESF logo  Manuals/Factsheets/Brochures

ESF logo  Case studies

ESF logo  Events