The Community Initiative EQUAL is one of four Community Initiatives co-financed through structural funds for the programming period 2000 - 2006. The EQUAL Community Initiative, co-financed through the European Social Fund ((ESF), is one of the tools by which to achieve the objectives of the European Employment Strategy (EES). The European Commission has declared the EQUAL Community Initiative as a continuation of the ADAPT and EMPLOYMENT Community Initiatives implemented in the previous programming period.
What distinguishes the EQUAL Community Initiative from the other main forms of help from the ESF (Operational Programme for Objective 1, Single Programming Document For Objective 3) is that it, in addition to innovation level and international cooperation, is implemented throughout the territories of all member states, i.e. both in territories covered by Objective 1 (regions with GNP per capita < 75% EU GNP per capita) and in territories covered by Objective 3 (other regions).
The main objective of the EQUAL Community Initiative is to contribute to ensuring the equal access to employment by searching for and verifying procedures to eliminate discrimination and inequality in the workplace. It is an initiative which, for EU member states, and as part of EC employment strategy, is financed through the ESF.
The EQUAL Community Initiative supports international cooperation in the development and promotion of new tools to tackle all forms of discrimination and inequalities on the labour market throughout the territories of the EU. Therefore, the purpose of the initiative is to develop and promote new tools to support members of disadvantaged groups (long-term unemployed, low-qualified, school graduates, elderly, disabled people, ethnic minorities, women, asylum seekers, etc.) exposed to discrimination or unequal treatment either at work or when looking for job. One of the thematic areas of the EQUAL Community Initiative is focused solely on issues surrounding the social integration and work opportunities for asylum seekers.
Announced thematic areas
Under the thematic approach, each EU member state selects areas in CIP EQUAL for support from a joint list of thematic areas. This enables states to find development partnerships dealing with similar issues in other countries, therefore taking advantage of existing experience of a given country in dealing with similar problems. This joint list is compiled by the EC for all EU member states, as well as non-member states which have joined this pan European programme. A total of nine thematic areas have been announced - eight of the thematic areas follow the four original pillars of the EES, the ninth thematic area is defined to meet the specific needs of asylum seekers.
The announced thematic areas are:
Within the first pillar of the EES: Improvement of employment capability:
- Facilitating the access and return to the labour market for those who have difficulty in being integrated into the labour market;
- Combating racism and xenophobia in relation to the labour market;
Within the second pillar of the EES: Development of entrepreneurship:
- Opening up the business start up process to everybody through the provision of tools for setting-up businesses and the identification and utilisation of new opportunities for the development of employment in urban and rural areas;
- Strengthening the social economy (the third sector), in particular services of interest to the community, with a focus on improving the quality of jobs;
Within the third pillar of the EES: Promotion of adaptability:
- Promoting lifelong learning and inclusive work practices which encourage the recruitment of those facing discrimination and inequality in connection with the labour market;
- Supporting the adaptability of firms and employees to structural economic changes and the use of information technology and other new technologies;
Within the fourth pillar of the EES: Equal Opportunities for Women and Men:
- Reconciling family and professional life, reintegration of men and women to work, developing more flexible and effective forms of working practices and support services;
- Reducing gender gaps and supporting job desegregation;
- Assisting asylum seekers in their integration.
Actions and principles of the EQUAL Community Initiative
The EQUAL Community Initiative is based on the principle of individual project support. The projects as such have 3 stages - so-called actions:
- Action 1 - Setting up Development Partnerships and international cooperation (duration of Action 1 is max. 6 months),
- Action 2 - Implementing the work plans of the individual DPs (the actual implementation of the individual projects lasts 2-3 years)
- Action 3 - National and international thematic networking, distribution of good practice and making an impact on national politics.
Commission Communication COM(2000)853 also defines a so-called Action 4 which is the technical assistance required for the implementation of the CIP EQUAL programme.
In addition to the thematic approach (according to which, priorities are selected by individual member states in accordance with declared EC thematic areas as part of the EQUAL Community Initiative Programme), there is the partnership principle (according to which, the individual projects are implemented through "development partnerships"), trans-national cooperation which enables the sharing of experience and knowledge between various EU member states or other states participating in the EQUAL Community Initiative, and the innovation principle. The principles of the EQUAL Community Initiative also include empowerment and mainstreaming. Empowerment means that all participating partnership organisations, including representatives of groups most disadvantaged by inequalities and discrimination on the labour market, must be given the opportunity to participate in decision-making within the individual development partnerships. Mainstreaming, as another principle on which the EQUAL Community Initiative is based, is supposed to facilitate the distribution of the EQUAL Community Initiative amongst national or regional policy makers, so that the best newly developed tools for tackling discrimination and inequalities on the labour market may be used in the preparation of national or regional strategic documents and development plans (e.g. in preparation of national employment action plans), and consequently in the preparation of the main forms of help from structural funds in the following programming period.
Two rounds of the EQUAL Community Initiative
The EQUAL Community Initiative is implemented through two rounds of requests for proposals. The first round started in EU countries in 2001 and the second one is planned for 2004.
As the first candidate country, the Czech Republic joined the EQUAL Community Initiative in the first round in 2001. The first round of the EQUAL Community Initiative was implemented in the Czech Republic under the project Phare No.2002/000-282.08.02 prepared within the National Phare Programme 2002. In the first round the Czech Republic has declared 7 thematic priorities. Currently, 10 projects are being implemented under 6 priorities.
The second round to be implemented in the Czech Republic in accordance with the Community Initiative Programme EQUAL (CIP EQUAL) will be announced in 2004 and will be co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF). In addition, owing to the ESFs contribution, the total volume of financial means allocated to the second round of the EQUAL Community Initiative in the Czech Republic will be approximately 5.5 times higher than those allocated in the first round.
The Governing body for the second round of the EQUAL Community Initiative EQUAL is the section for ESF aid management, namely the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
The EQUAL Community Initiative was launched by the European Commission for the entire territory of the European Union and will therefore be implemented throughout the territory of the Czech Republic.
Community Initiative Programme EQUAL management
The Governing body of the CIP EQUAL Czech Republic is the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MLSA). In addition, the MLSA is also the governing body for OP HRD (Operational Programme Human Resources Development) and SPD 3 (Single Programming Document 3) which ensures that the activities supported by the Community Initiative Programme EQUAL will be harmonised with the activities supported within one of these programmes in the Czech Republic that is the "mainstream" programmes.
The difference between the "mainstream" programmes and the CIP EQUAL is the fact that the global objective of CIP EQUAL (as in all EU member states) is the development and promotion of new means of tackling all forms of discrimination and inequalities on the labour market. Therefore, the objective is to develop, test and, should the expected benefits be successfully achieved, implement newly developed solutions for existing problems on the labour market. The experimental nature of this programme also affects the manner of implementation of individually supported projects and the principles pursued by all the supported projects.
For more details on EQUAL Initiative see www.equalcr.cz .