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  • Community initiative EQUAL concerning transnational co-operation to promote new means of combating all forms of discrimination and inequalities in connection with the labour market.

Previous programme


Programme funding

EUR 2 847 million

Official Journal Reference

L161 of 1999-06-26

Legislative Reference

1260/1999/EC of 1999-06-21
EQUAL aims at tackling specific problems of discrimination, inequality and social exclusion in the labour market. EQUAL is a testing ground that aims to analyse the causes of discrimination and inequality in relation to the world of work and to propose new ways of tackling them.


On 21 June 1999, the Council adopted a package of new Structural Funds regulations, known as Agenda 2000, for the 2000-2006 programming period. The new regulation is based on the concentration of the structural actions on three priorities and the reduction in the number of Community Initiatives from 13 to 4. EQUAL takes over from the ADAPT and EMPLOYMENT initiatives, which aimed at developing and testing new concepts to reduce unemployment, increasing the employability of groups facing difficulties on the labour market and strengthening the competitiveness of SMEs

The new Community Initiatives for the 2000-2006 programming period are the following:
- INTERREG, which aims at stimulating cross-border, transnational and inter-regional co-operation;
- LEADER, which promotes rural development through the initiatives of local action groups;
- EQUAL, which provides for the development of new ways of combating all forms of discrimination and inequality as regards access to the labour market;
- URBAN, which encourages the economic and social regeneration of towns, cities and suburbs in crisis.

EQUAL, which is financed by the European Social Fund (ESF), forms part of a coordinated employment strategy, based on the four pillars of employability, entrepreneurship, adaptability, equal opportunities for men and women. More specifically, the European Employment Strategy aims at:
- achieving a high level of employment for all groups in the labour market;
- developing the skills and employability of those currently outside the labour market;
- developing the skills of those already in work, especially in exposed or vulnerable sectors
- developing the capacity for entrepreneurship;
- increasing the participation of women and men in the labour market;

The EQUAL initiative is also complementary to the Community strategy to combat discrimination (in particular that based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation) and social exclusion. This strategy is founded on articles 13 and 137 of the Amsterdam Treaty.

The EQUAL initiative should, whenever possible, be integrated in the National Action Plans (NAPs) and in the National Action Plans on Social Inclusion (NAPincl).


Each Development partnership will be selected within one thematic field. There are nine such themes, eight of which are linked to the European Employment Strategy (the four pillars of which are employability, entrepreneurship, adaptability and equal opportunities for men and women). The ninth covers the special needs of asylum seekers.

1) Employability: Facilitating access and return to the labour market for those who have difficulty in being integrated or reintegrated into a labour market.
2) (Employability) Combating racism and xenophobia in relation to the labour market.
3) (Entrepreneurship) 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.
4) (Entrepreneurship) 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.
5) (Adaptability) Promoting lifelong learning and inclusive work practices which encourage the recruitment and retention of those suffering discrimination and inequality in connection with the labour market.
6) (Adaptability) Supporting the adaptability of firms and employees to structural economic change and the use of information technology and other new technologies.
7) (Equal opportunities for men and women) 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.
8) (Equal opportunities for men and women) Reducing gender gaps and supporting job desegregation.
9) Helping the integration of asylum-seekers - new ways of facilitating access to the labour market, providing training for unsuccessful asylum-seekers prior to their leaving the country.

Each development partnership will work within one thematic area. Most partnerships bring together the key players from one particular geographical area, at local or regional level (e.g. travel-to-work area). However, instead of a geographic partnership, a Development Partnership might choose to become a sectoral partnership by focusing on a particular sector of the economy or industry, or on an issue of particular importance in combating discrimination.


EQUAL will be implemented by partnerships established at geographical or sectoral level and called Development Partnerships. Their selection process is described below.

Initially, following the publication of guidelines (May 2000) each Member State prepared a Community Initiative Programme (CIP). Upon approval of these programmes by the Commission, national calls for proposals are issued by the national management authorities (see the EQUAL website for a list of national authorities and for deadlines). The selection criteria have been defined by the national authorities in accordance with guidelines issued by the European Commission. The criteria contain elements common to the States in addition to specific national criteria.

Administrative bodies, especially local and regional authorities or public employment services, NGOs, social partners and the business sector (in particular, SMEs) can all participate in a Development Partnership. There must be at least two different types of partners from the outset. Existing partnerships (e.g territorial pacts) can apply as long as they meet the criteria in terms of defining a strategy and international co-operation. An organisation may be involved in more than one Development Partnership (DP).

Particular attention will be given to the arrangements for ensuring that all relevant actors, including appropriate small organisations, are able to participate fully, and that those involved in the implementation of activities should also take part in the decision-making ("empowerment").

All Development Partnerships should have at least one partner from another Member State (in the EU or in the candidate countries) by the end of stage 1 of the selection process (see below).

Project applications should contain the following elements:
- A description of the objectives of the partnership, a diagnosis of the problem to be addressed;
- A list of partners containing at least two different types of partners, with a precise definition of their role;
- A detailed action plan for the initial period of funding and an outline of the main types of activities planned thereafter;
- The expectations in terms of transnational co-operation, although transnational partners are not necessary at this stage.

The selection is in two stages. If the project is selected by the national authority for the first stage, an initial period of funding will provide time for it to find transnational partners, consolidate the Development Partnership and further develop the work programme. This first selection stage corresponds to the first of 4 actions that can be funded under EQUAL:

- Action 1: setting up Development Partnerships and transnational co-operation;
- Action 2: implementing the work programmes of the Development Partnerships;
- Action 3: thematic networking, dissemination of good practice and making an impact on national policy. Participation in this Action shall be mandatory for all Development Partnerships in order to ensure the mainstreaming impact that EQUAL seeks.
- Action 4: technical Assistance to support actions 1, 2 and 3.

The length of this first stage will be decided by the managing authority but would not normally exceed 6 months. At the end of this stage, DPs must submit two agreements: a Development Partnership Agreement and a Transnational Co-operation Agreement. To allow the selected DPs to find a partner abroad, resources will be specifically earmarked for the development of trans-national partnerships. Available help will include a database to help find transnational partners.

A second selection will then take place. Selection for Action 2 will confirm selection for EQUAL funding. A multi-annual budget will then be available to the DP to implement its work programme. EQUAL is co-financed by the Member States (including regional and local bodies where applicable) and the European Commission. EQUAL Development Partnership cannot benefit from funding under Objectives1, 2 and 3 of the Structural Funds.

As for the follow up, the Development Partnership must also accept that the results obtained (products, instruments, methods, etc. ) will be public property. Exploiting the results of the initiative will be crucial in order to meet the overall aim of disseminating good practice.

Member States shall establish mechanisms which will facilitate mainstreaming at both the horizontal level (the level of organisations active in the same or a similar field) and the vertical level (the level of regional and national policy, including the NAP and the Structural Funds). These mechanisms should aim at identifying factors leading to inequality and discrimination and monitoring and analysing the impact or potential impact of the Development Partnerships on the policy priorities set out.
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