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Flexibility and special instruments

See how the 2021-2027 EU budget responds to unforeseen circumstances with the help of flexibility instruments.

Special instruments ensure the flexibility of the EU budget, and are used in cases of specific unforeseen events, such as natural disasters and emergencies. With their help, additional financial support can be mobilised. Special instruments are over and above the expenditure ceilings of the long-term budget, both for commitment and payment appropriations. However, the amounts reserved for flexibility instruments can never go above the own resources ceiling.

The maximum total amount that can be used for special instruments in 2021–2027 will be around €21 billion (in 2018 prices). There are two types of special instruments:

  • "Thematic special instruments" (Solidarity and Emergency Aid Reserve, European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, Brexit Adjustment Reserve) which provide for flexibility and additional means for specific events or budget lines;
  • "Non-thematic special instrument" (Flexibility Instrument, Single Margin Instrument), which provide the possibility to address more generally unforeseen circumstances or new/emerging priorities throughout the duration of the Multiannual Financial Framework.

The scope, financial allocation and way of operating of the special instruments are laid out in the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) Regulation and in the Inter-Institutional Agreement between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council. Duplication between the instruments as well as with spending programmes will be avoided. To ensure even more flexibility, the carry-over of unused amounts to the following years is also simplified and harmonised.

Visual on the three first special instruments

Solidarity and Emergency Aid Reserve (SEAR)

Solidarity and Emergency

Maximum €1.2 billion (in 2018 prices) per year

This instrument will cover the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF), and the Emergency Aid Reserve, previously two separate instruments. It can be used to help tackling emergency situations due to major natural disasters or public health crises in Member States and accession countries. Moreover, it can also help non-EU countries with emerging needs stemming from conflicts, the global refugee crisis or worsening natural disasters due to climate change.

The aid from this instrument is managed by the recipient country. It should be used to rebuild basic infrastructure, fund emergency services, temporary accommodation or clean-up operations, or counter immediate health risks.

European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF)

European Globalisation Adjustment Fund

Maximum €186 million (in 2018 prices) per year

The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund aims to help reintegrate into the labour market workers who lost their jobs due to globalisation. Structural changes linked to world trade patterns, automation and digitalisation, are common causes contributing to this. The EGF usually comes into play when entire companies are shut down or when a large number of workers are laid off in a particular sector, in one or more neighbouring regions.

In particular, the EGF funds projects that support people who lost their job to find another job or to set up their own business.

Brexit Adjustment Reserve


Maximum €5 billion (in 2018 prices) for the period 2021-2027

The Brexit Adjustment Reserve will help counter the adverse economic and social consequences in the Member States and sectors that are worst affected by departure of the United Kingdom from the EU.

The reserve can support measures such as:

  • support to economic sectors, businesses and local communities, including those that are dependent on fishing activities in the UK waters;
  • support to employment, including through short-time work schemes, re-skilling and training;
  • ensuring the functioning of border, customs, sanitary and phytosanitary and security controls, fisheries control, certification and authorisation regimes for products, communication, information and awareness raising for citizens and businesses.

Adapting structurally to the EU’s new relationship with the UK will require much more long-term adjustment than could be provided by the Reserve alone. The powerful new 2021-2027 EU budget will support this work.

Visual on the two last special instruments

Flexibility Instrument

Flexibility Instrument

Maximum €915 million (in 2018 prices) per year

The Flexibility Instrument is used to finance actions that cannot get funding via other sources of the budget without exceeding the expenditure ceilings. It has been mobilised frequently in the past, mainly to respond to migration challenges and security threats.

Single Margin Instrument (SMI)

Single Margin

The Single Margin Instrument will replace three previously separate instruments: the Global Margin for Commitments, the Global Margin for Payments, and the Contingency Margin. The margin is the difference between budgeted payment or commitment appropriations, and the expenditure ceilings.

With this instrument, new commitments and/or payments can be entered in the EU budget by using:

  • Commitment and payment appropriations that are left unused below the expenditure ceilings from previous years as from 2021. These are to be made available in the years 2022–2027.
  • An additional amount that can be made available as a last resort if the above amounts are not sufficient. This will be taken from commitment and payment appropriations from the current or future financial years.

The total annual amount mobilised for this instrument in relation to an amending or annual budget cannot exceed 0.04% of EU gross national income (GNI) in commitments, and 0.03% of EU GNI in payments. It also needs to be consistent with the own resources ceiling.