The European Social Fund+ (ESF+) is the European Union's (EU) instrument for investing in people. With a budget of almost EUR 99.3 billion for the period 2021 – 2027, the ESF+ makes an important contribution to policies and reforms in the areas of employment, social affairs, education and skills, thereby ensuring a more socially responsible Europe, where the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) is implemented. The European Pillar of Social Rights comprises 20 principles in the three areas of equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions as well as social protection and inclusion. The fund is also intended to make a significant contribution to the EU's economic and social recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Supported areas

In the current funding period of 2021 – 2027, the ESF+ brings together the four financial instruments that were still separate in the 2014-2020 funding period: the European Social Fund (ESF), the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), the Youth Employment Initiative and the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI). The following areas are supported:

  • Social inclusion
    • Active integration
    • Socio-economic integration of third-country nationals
    • Socio-economic integration of marginalised communities, such as Roma
    • Equal access to quality services and modernisation of social protection systems
    • Social integration of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion
    • Combating material deprivation
  • Education and skills
    • Better education and training systems at all levels
    • Equal access to quality education and training
    • Higher qualifications, retraining and lifelong learning for all
  • Employment
    • Access to quality employment for all, including youth employment
    • Modernisation of labour market institutions and services
    • Gender balance in the labour market
    • Adaption of employees, businesses and entrepreneurs to change

Organisation of the ESF+

The European Social Fund+ is divided into three parts:

  1. ESF+ in partnership
    This represents the bulk of the ESF+ budget, EUR 98.5 billion. This budget is implemented under shared management, i.e. in cooperation with the European Commission, funding is allocated to national and regional authorities, social partners and interest groups.
  2. ESF+ direct (EaSI)
    ESF+ direct has a budget of EUR 762 million. In contrast to ESF+ in partnership, grants are managed by the EU Commission.
  3. ESF Soziale Innovation+
    This area has a budget of EUR 197 million and is divided into two sub-areas:
    • Funding programme for social innovation
    • European centres of excellence for social innovation 

The ESF+ in Bavaria

In the Free State of Bavaria, the ESF+ budget for the current funding period of 2021 – 2027 is EUR 580 million. The European Union bears around 40% of the costs (up to EUR 230 million). The focus is on the promotion of young people – over half of the funding is spent on children and young people – and the improvement of equal opportunities for disadvantaged population groups and the reduction of poverty risks – 35% of the funding is used for this purpose. The following areas are currently being promoted specifically:

  • Employment:
    Projects for the training of workers and equality officers, networking activities between universities and enterprises and business start-ups; budget: EUR 42.4 million;
  • School and training projects:
    German classes, practical classes, but also support for apprenticeships for disadvantaged young people and training in the trades; budget: EUR 84.7 million;
  • Social inclusion:
    Projects to qualify the unemployed and people with a refugee background, to coach communities of need, to provide pre-school support and for the year of vocational preparation for the most disadvantaged young people; budget: EUR 73.8 million.

For ESF+ projects under Priority 1 "Employment, education and inclusion," the EU provides around EUR 200 million. Priority 1 also includes Funding Action 2 "Networking activities between universities and businesses," for which EUR 13.5 million of EU funds are available. Funding Action 2 is supervised by the Bavarian Ministry of Science and Art as an intermediary body, and the Bavarian Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Affairs is in charge of the ESF+ area as a whole. See also (German)

Exploiting synergies and combining funding instruments: Horizon Europe and ESF+

An innovative idea, funded as part of Horizon Europe and launched on the market with the help of staff who have been trained with funds from the European Social Fund+ (ESF+) – this is the sort of success story that the EU and the national funding bodies would like to see more often. They hope that they can achieve a more efficient deployment of funds, a more effective use of research results and more sustainable projects by combining various funding instruments. However, a concept that sounds good in theory causes problems for several applicants in practice. BayFOR has developed expertise that makes it easier for Bavarian R&I players to generate such synergy effects between Horizon Europe and the ESF+, and to benefit from them. However, there is no standard solution for this, but rather creative ideas, precise knowledge of current projects in Bavaria and throughout Europe as well as the programme-specific regulations are required – and BayFOR would like to support you with its expertise. We would be glad to hear from any project managers who are interested in gaining such added value.

REACT-EU (Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe)

Another funding instrument implemented through the existing ESF and ERDF ((link to the new ERDF website)) programmes of the expiring funding period 2014 – 2020 is REACT-EU. REACT-EU aims to cushion the economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe. However, these funds are not only used to manage crises and alleviate the consequences of crises, but also to build a bridge to the long-term green, digital and stable recovery of the economy. Throughout Europe, REACT-EU, which runs until the end of 2023, has a budget of EUR 47.5 billion. For Bavaria, this means an additional EUR 47 million for the Bavarian ESF programme. REACT-EU supports the following areas in the Bavarian ESF:

  • Increase in the proportion of skilled workers in childcare facilities
  • Professional qualification of employed people (unfortunately, no new applications can be submitted here)
  • Professional qualification and knowledge transfer from universities to companies
  • Promotion of green professions and improvement of environmental awareness

Watch also a video about the European Social Fund Plus (ESF Plus):

Furthermore a video about REACT-EU in the Bavarian ERDF program with a statement of the managing director of the Bavarian Research Alliance Martin Reichel (German):


Ass. jur. Martin Reichel

Ass. jur. Martin Reichel
Phone: +49 89 9901888-0

Competent Support for Excellent Research in Bavaria, Europe and the World

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Competent Support for Excellent Research in Bavaria, Europe and the World

BayFOR Bavarian Research and Innovation Agency