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European Social Fund: Fighting poverty and unemployment

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The improved European Social Fund+ programme focuses on fighting child poverty and youth unemployment in Europe, Society.

On 8 June, the European Parliament adopted new rules to tackle unemployment and poverty in the EU in the wake of the pandemic crisis. The renewed and simplified European Social Fund, known as the European Social Fund+, will focus on children and youth.

With a budget of €88 billion for 2021-2027, the fund will help EU countries provide access to free education, decent food and housing for children. It will also support investments in apprenticeships and vocational training for unemployed young people.

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Many people are concerned about social and employment issues. The fund will promote social inclusion for those suffering job losses and income reduction and will provide food and basic assistance to the most deprived. What is the European Social Fund?  

  • It is the EU's oldest financial instrument to invest in people, improve job opportunities for workers and raise their standard of living.  
  • Funding is distributed to EU countries and regions to finance operational programmes and employment-related projects, from helping to create work to addressing educational gaps, poverty and social inclusion.
  • Beneficiaries are usually people, but funding can also be used to help companies and organizations. 
More flexibility, simplicity and efficiency

The updated European Social Fund Plus merges a number of existing funds and programmes, pooling their resources:

This allows for more integrated and targeted support. For instance, people affected by poverty will benefit from a better mix of material assistance and comprehensive social support.

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Because of these more flexible and simpler rules, it should be easier for people and organizations to benefit from the fund.

Priorities

The European Social Fund+ will invest in three main areas:

  • Education, training and lifelong learning
  • Effectiveness of labour markets and equal access to quality employment
  • Social inclusion and combatting poverty

The fund also supports initiatives enabling people to find better employment or work in a different EU region or country. This includes developing new skills for new types of jobs required by the green and digital transitions.

Read more about social policies 

European Social Fund+  

Belgium

Attacked for daring to write

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On 1 May this year Belgian journalist Roland Delacore wrote a personal opinion piece about the Church of Almighty God, which was published in EU Reporter. As a result, Roland Delacore received great criticism in other media by several NGOs. In particular, he was accused of being a “Chinese Government agent” and “one of Beijing’s useful idiots” for his pro-China, anti-cult viewpoint. In response, Delacore has penned a follow up article which he has requested we publish. This article is the personal opinion of the author only, and is not endorsed by EU Reporter. EU Reporter does however support freedom of opinion and speech, and freedom and independence of the press. EU Reporter has decided therefore to publish Delacore’s article unedited.

"Attacked for daring to write" by Roland Delacourt

Recently, I was attacked by the Italian religious research magazine Bitter Winter for publishing an interview exposing the cult nature of Eastern Lightning (Church of Almighty God) in EU Reporter and was even described by its allies as a Communist Party of China agent, writes Roland Delacourt.  

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At the same time, they are also trying to deny a report on Eastern Lightning (Church of Almighty God) and its allies (18 pages) that I submitted to CIAOSN in Belgium through various private channels. However, it must be pointed out that this report will be an overwhelming blow to the Eastern Lightning. This report is not very detailed. It is a compilation of complaints. All these complaints come from the Christian circle. Including the Vatican and other denominations inspired by Christianity.

Eastern Lightning was founded by Zhao Weishan in 1989. He currently lives in the United States and continues to serve as a church leader. This is a Chinese heretical religious movement based on Christianity, which believes that Jesus was reincarnated as a woman in China. According to unofficial sources, the woman is Yang Xiangbin, born in 1973. It is this fact that makes me feel uneasy. If I slightly suspect that this report was fabricated or written by a pro-communist organization, I would never pass on such a report. A sect worships a woman who claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus. In our land, which Christian would agree with the eschatology of this sect?

Do you know Bitter Winter? According to the founder, this is an electronic magazine, launched by the New Religious Research Centre CESNUR in May 2018, to discuss religious freedom and human rights issues in China. The organization is headquartered in Turin, Italy.

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According to reports from the German Katolische magazine and the Italian L'Espresso weekly magazine, Bitter Winter is very close to the position of the US government on the China issue. One of its primary purposes is to disrupt the agreement between the Holy See and China.

Massimo Introvigne is the founder of the magazine and the current editor in chief. He calls himself a "sociologist" and is one of the "world’s top experts on new religious movements", but in fact, he is a patent attorney.

Antovigne is also the founder of CESNUR, which has launched the new religious movement magazine The Journal of CESNUR, and the original online magazine Bitter Winter specifically concerning Chinese religious issues. Starting from 1 December, 2020, Bitterwinter.com has added an international column covering religious freedom around the world.

CESNUR is actually regarded as "the most famous controversial religious dissemination and lobbying group". CESNUR scholars defended many religious denominations, such as the Unification Church (Moonies), Scientology, Chinese Almighty Church (accused in connection with the 2014 Zhaoyuan intentional homicide case in Shandong), and the Sun Temple (caused 74 deaths) The chief culprit in mass suicides), Aum Shinrikyo (the perpetrator of the sarin gas attack in Tokyo in 1995), and the Shincheonji Jesuits (which contributed to the spread of the new crown epidemic in South Korea).

In fact, Massimo Antovigne did not manage the magazine as a religious expert or sociologist but worked according to his status as a lawyer. Antovigne always wears a lawyer's suit when introducing sects or sects on the Internet. In this media, you can only read positive information about religion.

Regarding the Sun Temple and the large-scale suicides in Switzerland, France, and Quebec from 1994 to 1997, Antovigne pointed out and condemned certain European countries for passing laws against "cults." On January 20, 2012, he wrote in Bitter Winter: These laws cannot prevent such a tragedy from happening again. This religious group is basically unknown to the media and the police, but these established criminal facts can easily be distracted. The welcoming minority has been discriminated against and labelled a "cult" by their opponents. On September 20, 2018, Antovigne published an article on Bitter.com, questioning the authenticity of the 2014 death of a woman by the Cult of Almighty God in a McDonald’s restaurant in Zhaoyuan, Shandong. He wrote: The Chinese government accused Almighty God Cult of multiple crimes, including the blatant murder of women in Zhaoyuan, Shandong in 2014. However, some academic studies have shown that the crime is another new religious movement with a similar name. Strictly speaking, it has nothing to do with Almighty Sect. For the academic research in his mouth, Antovigne did not give any details. Which university is it? Which experts did it?

In recent years, Bitter Winter and its allies have been defenders of harmful cults and have done their best to resist the actions of organizations such as CIAOSN in Belgium, FECRIS in Europe, and Miviludes in France.

CIAOSN is an information and consultation centre for harmful cults established by a law of June 2, 1998. It is an independent centre under the Federal Judicial Public Service of Belgium.

FECRIS, the Federation of European Sectarian Research and Information Centres, is a federation of European NGOs whose goal is to protect people from sectarian tendencies through its network.

MIVILUDES, an inter-ministerial mission to monitor and combat sectarian tendencies, is a French government agency established in 2002. Its task is to observe and analyse the phenomenon of sectarian tendencies, inform the public of the dangers it poses, and coordinate public authorities to carry out preventive and repressive actions.

Whether it is inter-institutional work or mass work, these organizations have performed well, but this cannot avoid Bitter Winter "voicing" criticism: Belgium, especially its French-speaking area, has a long and deep connection with France. In 1998, Belgium established CIAOSN, the Information and Consultation Centre for Harmful Cult Organizations. Although less powerful, it is very similar to Miviludes and its predecessors. CIAOSN does not directly participate in the "fighting against cults," but it provides advice and suggestions to the government and other departments.

There is no doubt that CIAOSN is deeply influenced by Miviludes, and Fenech himself brags about the influence of this French institution in Belgium. For example, in 2018, CIAOSN had a report with the subject "the response of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to cases of sexual abuse among its members". In addition to the error of only narrating but not commenting on the specific issue of sexual abuse, the report made a general criticism of the Jehovah's Witnesses at the beginning, which was obviously inspired by the propaganda of Miviludes.

As long as these cult fanatics attack me, I know that I am on the right path. The fact that they attacked the "messenger" rather than the message itself proved the uneasy position. All attacks on serious and official institutions by these cult protectors are doomed to failure, because the sectarian tendencies that these people promote or deny will not receive sympathy in Europe or the United States.

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Belgium

Cars and pavements washed away as Belgian town hit by worst floods in decades

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The southern Belgian town of Dinant was hit by the heaviest floods in decades on Saturday (24 July) after a two-hour thunderstorm turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavements but did not kill anyone, writes Jan Strupczewski, Reuters.

Dinant was spared the deadly floods 10 days ago that killed 37 people in southeast Belgium and many more in Germany, but the violence of Saturday's storm surprised many.

"I have been living in Dinant for 57 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Richard Fournaux, the former mayor of the town on the Meuse river and birthplace of the 19th century inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, said on social media.

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A woman works to recover her belongings following heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
A woman walks in an area affected by heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows.

There was no precise estimate of the damage, with town authorities predicting only that it would be "significant", according to Belgian RTL TV.

The storm wreaked similar havoc, also with no loss of life, in the small town of Anhee a few kilometres north of Dinant.

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Czech Republic

NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Czechia's €7 billion recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has today (19 July) adopted a positive assessment of Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €7 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a key role in helping Czechia emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Czech plan forms part of an unprecedented co-ordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

The Commission assessed Czechia's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms set out in Czechia's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.

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Securing Czechia's green and digital transition  

The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 42% of its total allocation to measures that support climate objectives. The plan includes investments in renewable energy, the modernisation of district heating distribution networks, the replacement of coal-fired boilers and improving the energy efficiency of residential and public buildings. The plan also includes measures for nature protection and water management as well as investment in sustainable mobility.

The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 22% of its total allocation to measures that support the digital transition. The plan provides for investments in digital infrastructure, the digitalization of public administration, including the areas of health, justice and the administration of construction permits. It promotes the digitalisation of businesses and digital projects in the cultural and creative sectors. The plan also includes measures to improve digital skills at all levels, as part of the education system and through dedicated upskilling and reskilling programmes.

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Reinforcing Czechia's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Czechia's plan effectively addresses all or a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Czechia by the Council in the European Semester in 2019 and in 2020.

The plan provides for measures to tackle the need for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, sustainable transport and digital infrastructure. Several measures aim at addressing the need to foster digital skills, improve the quality and inclusiveness of education, and to increase the availability of childcare facilities. The plan also provides for improving the business environment, mainly through extensive e-government measures, a reform of the procedures of granting construction permits and anti-corruption measures. Challenges in the area of R&D shall be improved by investment geared at strengthening public-private cooperation and financial and non-financial support to innovative firms.

The plan represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Czechia's economic and social situation, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

Supporting flagship investments and reform projects

The Czech plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all member states in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the twin transition. For instance, Czechia has proposed €1.4bn to support the energy efficiency renovation of buildings and €500 million to boost digital skills through education and investments in upskilling and reskilling programmes for the entire labour force.  

The Commission's assessment finds that no measure included in the plan does any significant harm to the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The arrangements proposed in the recovery and resilience plan in relation to control systems are adequate to prevent, detect and correct corruption, fraud and conflicts of interests relating to the use of funds. The arrangements are also expected to effectively avoid double funding under that Regulation and other Union programmes. These control systems are complemented by additional audit and control measures contained in the Commission's proposal for a Council Implementing Decision as milestones. These milestones must be fulfilled before Czechia presents its first payment request to the Commission.

President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today, the European Commission has decided to give its green light to Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This plan will play a crucial role in supporting a shift towards a greener and more digital future for Czechia. Measures that improve energy efficiency, digitalize public administration and deter the misuse of public funds are exactly in line with the objectives of NextGenerationEU. I also welcome the strong emphasis the plan places on strengthening the resilience of Czechia's health-care system to prepare it for future challenges. We will stand with you every step of the way to ensure that the plan is fully implemented.

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Czechia's recovery and resilience plan will provide a strong boost to the country's efforts to get back its feet after the economic shock caused the pandemic. The €7bn in NextGenerationEU funds that will flow to Czechia over the next five years will support a wide-ranging programme of reforms and investments to build a more sustainable and competitive economy. They include very sizeable investments in building renovation, clean energy and sustainable mobility, as well as measures to boost digital infrastructure and skills and the digitalisation of public services. The business environment will benefit from the promotion of e-government and anti-corruption measures. The plan will also support improvements in healthcare, including reinforced cancer prevention and rehabilitation care.”

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council Implementing Decision to provide €7bn in grants to Czechia under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €910m to Czechia in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total amount allocated to Czechia.

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “This plan will put Czechia on the path to recovery and boost its economic growth as Europe gears up for the green and digital transitions. Czechia intends to invest in renewable energy and sustainable transport, while improving the energy efficiency of buildings. It aims to roll out greater digital connectivity across the country, promote digital education and skills, and digitalize many of its public services. And it places a welcome focus on improving the business environment and justice system, backed by measures to fight corruption and promote e-government – all in a balanced response to the Czech economic and social situation. Once put properly into practice, this plan will help to put Czechia on a sound footing for the future.”

The Commission will authorize further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the Council Implementing Decision, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

More information

Questions and answers: European Commission endorses Czechia's recovery and resilience plan

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and answers

Factsheet on Czechia's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Czechia

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Czechia

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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