Also in 2019 we’ll cooperate with schools with migrants and Roma children in the activities that support integration in schools. In January 2019 a course for volunteers will be organised and app 20 volunteers per each of the country (Slovenia, Spain, italy, Macedonia (FYRM) will be placed in schools. The volunteers, mainly the students will learn also skills that will help them when looking for a job and the’ll develop the virtue of solidarity. “Solidarity is the glue that keeps our Union together”, Jean-Claude Junker, State of the European Union address to the European Parliament, September 2016.
Do we need solidarity in Europe?
Solidarity is a word often used when speaking of European construction, as it was a central ideal at the heart of the unification of the continent after centuries of war and division. But is it still relevant in today’s European Union? Many of our national leaders tell us that they want “less Europe”, so could we also get by with less solidarity?
Solidarity is not an easy topic for the European Union these days, with one Member State negotiating the terms of its withdrawal, and others questioning whether we even share common values. In recent years, European solidarity has been put to the test a number of times, and battles have been lost.
Yet there are also indications of different possibilities. One optimistic signal is that young Europeans are at the forefront of engagement in voluntary actions – the most tangible manifestation of social solidarity. The European Commission staff working document on ‘the Situation of young people in the European Union’ reports that as many as 30% of young people between the ages of 15 and 30 participated in volunteering in 2017. What’s more, the share of young volunteers has increased by about 25% since 2011.
Certainly, the opportunity to personally contribute to social and environmental causes is what motivates so many youngsters to devote their time and energy to such projects. Yet, for many, volunteering is also a great chance to gain experience and skills useful for their future employability. It comes as no surprise then that some of the biggest increases in the percentages of participants have been recorded in European countries severely hit by the recent economic crisis and where finding meaningful employment after the completion of one’s studies has proved a struggle: Greece and Italy are such examples.
And data suggest that there are many more young Europeans who would like to volunteer, but are put off. A Eurobarometer survey from 2014 shows that financial obstacles pose severe limitations on volunteering: half of the surveyed volunteers had to cover their own living and travel costs and one in three received no compensation at all. In such conditions the option of volunteering is closed to those lacking financial resources. Meanwhile, very few volunteers receive recognition of the skills acquired during their experiences. The European Commission staff working document on ‘the Situation of young people in the European Union’ estimates that despite European tools and national certification frameworks, on average fewer than 30% of all volunteers obtained any certification. Information collected in the Youth Wiki also confirms this impression that some of the most powerful barriers preventing prospective volunteers – including financing, recognition and providing quality-assured programmes – remain unaddressed.
While barriers exist to all types of volunteering, they are particularly significant for those wishing to volunteer abroad. Indeed a survey conducted in 2017 shows that as few as 8% have had such an opportunity.
There are two key lessons to be learned from this analysis. The first – and most important – is that solidarity is relevant to the daily lives of Europeans – and particularly to young Europeans. The second is that countries could do much more to provide opportunities for solidarity to be expressed and valued.
Amidst this background, the recent initiative to establish an ‘EU Solidarity Corps’ – a cross-national service where young people can take part in social projects – should be welcomed. It responds to the demand to fill gaps in the provision of volunteering opportunities. It also builds on the best examples of national programmes, so that participants receive clear information, adequate training and linguistic support. The programme also ensures financial support to cover travel, accommodation and subsistence as well as insurance. And most importantly volunteers are given formal certification of their experience.
As the first volunteers through this initiative were posted in 2017 it is too early to assess its outcomes and impact. Its success will partly depend on the contribution of civil society organisations in providing placements and opportunities. But success will also be built on the commitment of national governments to fund the proposed budget of €1.26 billion for the period 2021-2027. Member States will thus need to demonstrate solidarity for the programme to be sustained.
It is often claimed rather glibly that Europe is at a crossroads. But looking around the continent now, we do indeed appear to face clear choices. On the one hand, we can take the path of minimal cooperation and “less Europe” proposed in several countries. Alternatively we can follow the example set by young citizens of building a future based on solidarity. We should reflect carefully on the implications of this choice.
Authors: Giulia Paolini and David Crosier