EQUAL Community Initiative
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (July 2010)|
EQUAL was the ‘Community Initiative’ within the European Social Fund of the European Union. It concerned “transnational co-operation to promote new means of combating all forms of discrimination and inequalities in connection with the labour market”. It ran from 2001 till 2007 with a budget of some €3 billion of EU resources, matched by a similar sum from national resources.
EQUAL was part of the European Union's strategy for "more and better jobs" and for ensuring that no-one is denied access to them. It tested new ways of tackling discrimination and inequality experienced by those in work and those looking for a job. From 2008 it has been discontinued as such, but its principles have been incorporated, at least in theory, into the mainstream Structural Funds. In practice, transnational work in the ESF is virtually limited to the Learning Networks or Communities of practice that are being established under the Learning for Change programme. These involve the 117 ESF Managing Authorities (mostly national ministries and regions) and their key external partners, but have a much more limited budget and reach than EQUAL did.
EQUAL co-financed activities in all 27 EU Member States - the 12 new countries actually joined in January 2004, 4 months before their official accession. The EU contribution to EQUAL of €3.274 billion was matched by national funding. EQUAL differed from the European Social Fund mainstream programmes in its function as a laboratory (principle of innovation) and in its emphasis on active co-operation between Member States. Two calls for proposals for EQUAL projects in the Member States took place, the first in 2001 and the second in 2004. Responsibility for the implementation of the Community Initiative programmes in the Member States lies with the national authorities.
EQUAL projects were classified into the four pillars of the European Employment Strategy, and more precisely into nine themes:
a) Facilitating access and return to the labour market for those who have difficulty in being integrated or re-integrated into a labour market which must be open to all
c) Opening up the business creation process to all by providing the tools required for setting up in business and for the identification and exploitation of new possibilities for creating employment in urban and rural areas
d) Strengthening the social economy (the third sector), in particular the services of interest to the community, with a focus on improving the quality of jobs
f) Supporting the adaptability of firms and employees to structural economic change and the use of information technology and other new technologies
4. Equal Opportunities for women and men
g) Reconciling family and professional life, as well as the reintegration of men and women who have left the labour market, by developing more flexible and effective forms of work organisation and support services
h) Reducing gender gaps and supporting job desegregation.
5. (i) Asylum seekers
The building blocks of EQUAL
EQUAL adopted an innovative way of working designed to ensure that its lessons were long-lasting. Support was given not to time-limited projects but to some 3,500 ‘development partnerships’ (DPs) which brought different types of institution together. Typically they included for instance local authorities, businesses, colleges and trade unions. One of the effects of obliging different types of organisation to work together in order to gain financial support has been to build up the relationship and habits necessary for continued partnership working.
Secondly, DPs were obliged to attempt to ‘mainstream’ their results, that is to go beyond simply ‘disseminating’ them to other potential practitioners, but also to make serious attempts to influence policy-makers.
Thirdly, EQUAL was a uniquely self-conscious programme, that studied numerous process issues such as the way innovation is created, the way people can best work together and the way policies are changed.
It followed these principles:
- Partnership: to bring together key actors (local and regional authorities, training bodies, public employment services, NGOs, enterprises, social partners) in Development Partnerships (DPs) on a geographical or sectoral level to tackle discrimination and inequality.
- Thematic approach: to concentrate actions on thematic fields in keeping with the European Employment Strategy.
- Innovation: to explore and test innovative approaches in formulating, delivering and implementing employment and training policies.
- Empowerment: to strengthen capacity building by making all relevant actors, including beneficiaries, work together on an equal footing.
- Transnationality: to render it possible for individual DPs and national authorities to learn from each other and co-operate productively across borders.
- Mainstreaming: to develop and test new ways of integrating best practices into employment and social inclusion policies.