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The European Social Fund (ESF) is the oldest of four European Structural Funds that provide grants to support economic development within the European Union. It was created by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and became operational in 1960.

Its purpose is to increase employment, especially through funding vocational training. Over the period 2007 to 2013, the intention is to use the ESF to support the Lisbon Strategy.


Following a review in the early 1980s, the ESF concentrated on combating youth unemployment. Later, a stronger focus was given to employment development in regions with low incomes and weak economies.

The ESF also funded the EQUAL Community Initiative between 2000 and 2006 (later in the new member states)

Eligible costs

The ESF provides grants for running costs, and there are detailed regulations about what expenditure may be used to claim grant. Unlike the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), it does not provide capital grants for infrastructure. If there is a need for a new vocational training centre, the ERDF would be able to provide a capital grant to assist with construction costs and the ESF could provide a grant towards the running costs.

The programme period 2007-2013 will now be coming into use. The new Convergence/Cohesion programme will constitute about 1/3 of the EU budget. Priority will be given to less developed nations. The priority will be given to work which will enhance economic growth in the region however there is a strong environmental and biodiversity element within the funding stream.


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