At a high level conference held in Sofia on 16 and 17 June to discuss the result orientation of the cohesion policy, Cedefop Director James Calleja said that cohesion funds have a dual role: to promote the ‘think European, act local’ idea and ensure universal access to the acquisition of skills and qualifications.

Cedefop's online resources and activities provide invaluable data and policy orientations to address disadvantaged groups such as low-skilled adults, early leavers, people not in employment, education or training (NEETs), the unemployed and those whose jobs mismatch their qualifications, talent and aspirations.

Speaking in the workshop on skills, Mr Calleja said that Cedefop is resourced to support the implementation of the New skills agenda for Europe. ‘As an EU agency focused on skills, qualifications and employability, we can support a better performance with European Social Fund (ESF) funding,’ he added.

Human capital development, social inclusion and employability are not only at the heart of the cohesion policy for growth and jobs; they also form the backbone of the skills agenda. More needs to be done to help over 70 million European adults who lack adequate reading, writing, numeracy and digital skills.

This is one of vocational education and training’s (VET's) highest priorities for the next five years. Mr Calleja argued that ‘VET efforts and funds must focus on a results strategy agenda, on vulnerable groups and on a performance framework based on the rationalisation of resources and targeted needs.’

The conference, organised by the Regional Policy of DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (EMPL), brought together more than 450 participants – managing authorities, evaluation experts, the academia and stakeholders from across Europe – for a dialogue and analysis of achievements and challenges of the cohesion policy.

It was inaugurated by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Crețu. Mr Borissov spoke about the leap of quality in the life of many Bulgarians who benefitted from structural funds. Commissioner Cretu said that the use of ESF should primarily serve to change people's lives and ensure that no one is left behind.

Deputy Prime Ministers Peter Pellegrini and Tomislav Donchev of Slovakia and Bulgaria respectively noted that the economic and social crisis undermines development, but argued that challenges and not crisis should steer policy.

Santiago Loranca Garcia, Head of Evaluation and Impact Assessment of DG EMPL said that out of EUR 115 billion allocated to ESF projects across Europe, EUR 91.7 billion were spent up to the end of 2014. The projects attracted more than 94 million participants of whom 8.9 million went into employment, 8.6 million gained a qualification and 0.3 started a business. Women counted for more than 51% of all participants.