Europe can improve neither its economic competitiveness nor its social cohesion with such high levels of unemployment and without higher employment rates.
That is why the European Commission made inclusive growth one of the key objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy, and now advocates more and better-focused investment in people and their skills.
The European Social Fund (ESF) plays a major role in the EU in helping people to keep their jobs or to find a new one. I am pleased that Scotland is successfully using the Social Fund to boost employment, increase the quality of its workforce and labour productivity and promote social inclusion, for example by enabling disadvantaged people to gain access to employment.
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In the years 2007-2013, over 300 million euros from the ESF are contributing to 310 projects in the Lowlands and Uplands and 130 projects in the Highlands and Islands.
Such projects include Highland Energy Collaboration, aiming to create jobs and improve competitiveness through renewable energy and engineering training, and Glasgow City Council's efforts to help young mothers complete their education and get jobs.
Many of these projects address the particularly difficult situation of unemployed young people. Currently over 45% of the beneficiaries in ESF programmes in Scotland are young people between the ages of 15 and 24. For instance, the Prince's Trust in Scotland has supported 5000 disadvantaged young people in 2011 and 2012, with almost 4000 of them achieving and sustaining positive outcomes such as education, training, employment or self-employment. This is an outstanding achievement.
Scotland has an impressive track record of directing ESF money to where it is most needed. In the past five years almost 30,000 participants in ESF projects in the Lowlands and Uplands have got jobs and another 22,000 have entered education or training. Furthermore, the focus has been shifted swiftly to the pressing needs of the young generation. This excellent ESF track record in Scotland is thanks to a genuine partnership of Government institutions, employers, local governments and NGOs working to make sure the support reaches those who need it most.
The ESF must continue to invest in human capital in Scotland, the rest of the UK and Europe in the coming years. All the more so when, given the continuing economic crisis, and the structural challenges of demographic, technological and climate change, investment in skills and helping those worst hit to get jobs are more important than ever.
That is precisely why the Commission has proposed a reinforced budget for the ESF in the period 2014-2020. I trust that social partners, civil society and, above all, the governments of the EU member states will understand the importance of supporting the Commission's proposal.
European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion,
European Commission, Brussels.