BRUSSELS - The European Social Fund (ESF) “is Europe’s main instrument for supporting jobs, helping people get better jobs and ensuring fairer job opportunities for all EU citizens”, according to the ESF website.

This sounds like a useful and important mechanism for supporting skilled jobs and a service economy in the EU, especially for those countries who joined the party late, such as Bulgaria and Romania, and who needed as much help as they could get.

But have these two newest member states used the billions, paid for by EU countries, to develop their human capital and match opportunities in education with the demands of the job market?

Shocking facts reveal as much as 70,000 euros was spent on a project tasked to employ only one person, “copy-paste” applications were financed with 100,000 euros, a multi-million system of jobs training lacked any real kind of public scrutiny, not to mention blackmail, kickbacks, and cronyism – all in the name of human resources.

With education standards at risk of falling in these two countries, never has there been a greater imperative to boost skills, and help the vulnerable and those left behind the transition to jobs in the new economy.

Yet in the cases we analysed, this opportunity was missed. Instead, the EU funds were only a pretext for well-connected figures to the local and national Governments to make money for themselves, their colleagues and their families. This went as high as ministers and influential power-brokers. And few of these illustrious figures have been held accountable.

Thousands of projects in both Romania and Bulgaria have been financed by the European Social Fund for the last ten years, yet the outcome is to be expected. However, in order to find out whether national authorities are to blame for the poor results or an inbuilt flaw of the programme was the problem, an investigation has to be carried out. A group of journalists from both countries did the job: Catalin Prisacariu coordinated the research, Sorin Ozon dug into Romanian projects’ data, Ognyan Georgiev was in charge of the EU money spent in Bulgaria and Michael Bird did his part as an editor of the stories.

A European cross-border research grant of €7,200, allocated on 15 February 2018.

Team members

Cătălin Prisacariu

Cătălin Prisacariu is an investigative journalist based in Bucharest, Romania.

cătălin prisacariu

Michael Bird

Michael Bird is an award-winning journalist and writer based in Bucharest, Romania.

Michael Bird

Ognyan Georgiev

Ognyan Georgiev is an editor in the leading Bulgarian business publication Capital.

Sorin Ozon

Sorin Ozon is a Romanian investigative journalist.

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