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Microfinance under the European Social Fund (ESF)

Picture: Stefan De Keersmaecker, DG EMPL, European Commission

On 3 February 2016, fi-compass organised a workshop on Microfinance under the European Social Fund (ESF) which took place in Brussels. This workshop was attended by more than 100 participants including policy makers, representatives from managing authorities and microfinance providers.

Stefan De Keersmaecker, Deputy Head of Unit at DG EMPL, European Commission, and Per-Erik Eriksson from the European Investment Fund opened the workshop by setting the scene for microfinance in the EU. They noted that unemployment levels continue to reinforce the need for improved access to credit for disadvantaged groups. Beneficial social impacts from microfinance were highlighted as well as the various microfinance schemes available at EU level.

Picture:Andrea Da Pozzo, DG EMPL, European Commission; Shadin Viratham, DG EMPL, European Commission; Riccardo Aguglia, European Investment Fund; Dr Pål Vik, Salford University

A first morning panel featured practical examples of microfinance at work in France and Italy. Marie Degrand-Guillaud explained how ADIE, a non-governmental organisation, now provides direct personal and professional credits, as well as micro-insurance, to a target group of disadvantaged people. She also underlined the importance of complementary business development services that can be enabled by grants. Mauro Terzoni from Italy’s Marche Region described a microfinance initiative backed by a guarantee scheme that is designed to promote entrepreneurship. This financial instrument offers unemployed people the resources and training that they need to help them to set up their businesses.

Picture: Event participants

The second morning panel focused on the microfinance tools available at the EU level. Together, Andrea Da Pozzo and Shadin Viratham, both from DG EMPL, European Commission, gave an overview of the instruments supporting employment and social innovation. Riccardo Aguglia from the European Investment Fund presented the microfinance market and current results of the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) products. A presentation from the European Investment Bank’s Christos Pouris focused on the Technical Assistance strand of EaSI.

Other useful information presented during this part of the workshop included an overview by Dr Pål Vik of Salford University, explaining the European Code of Good Conduct (CoGC) for Microcredit Provision. This session was followed by Aldo Moauro from MicroFinanza Rating, who underlined the importance of verifying whether microcredit providers comply with the Code of Conduct.

The afternoon panel explored the ‘paradigm shift for microfinance under the ESF’ and discussed with delegates the potential advantages from more uniformed approaches to microfinance at EU and national levels.

Overall conclusions from the fi-compass workshop were summed up by Jader Cané from DG EMPL, European Commission, who thanked all the participants for their useful contributions. He stressed that the 2014-2020 legal framework now puts ESF managing authorities in a much better position to make use of microfinance instruments than at any time in the past. Synergies between financial instruments and other forms of support where seen as offering many long-term social benefits and partnerships between NGOs, public bodies and the private sector were also advocated. A key consideration for managing authorities was the flexibility of microfinance instruments because these should be able to adapt to changing circumstances.

All of the presentations from the Brussels workshop are available on the fi-compass website.

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