(7 January 2009) Representatives of local and regional public employers and employees from 17 countries met in Bratislava on 11 and 12 December 2008 to discuss how to strengthen social dialogue, the benefits of the European Social Fund, and gender equality. Slovakia's State Secretary for Labour, social affairs and family Emilia Kršíková called on national governments to provide immediate assistance and training to the growing number of unemployed, to facilitate their re-integration into the labour market and to take measures to avoid long-term unemployment. She also stressed that the social dimension of the European Union should not be neglected in this period of economic uncertainties. The president and vice president of the sectoral social dialogue committee Åke Hillman and Anders Hammerbäck, stressed that the public sector and social policy can help solve the current global economic and financial crisis. They also expressed their concern that less public money be spent on employment and qualification measures. Dominique Bé, representing DG Employment of the European Commission, described how the European Social Fund (ESF) can be used for capacity building, training and qualification, as well as the development of social dialogue. For the 2007-2013 funding period, some €1.2 bn are budgeted for social partners activities. EPSU and CEMR call on national governments to support proposals from the social partners in the local and regional government sector; they also support the European Commission's proposal for a recovery plan with a faster and more flexible procedure for national measures: under the proposal, all initiatives within the ESF could be funded up to 100% for a certain period.