The Commission’s new programme on youth volunteering could foster European solidarity, but needs fresh funds, says the EESC
The Commission’s legislative proposal for the European Solidarity Corps (ESC), a programme focusing on youth volunteering in Europe, is a good start for a broader discussion, but some of its elements, including its funding, need to be further clarified and improved, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) said in October at its latest plenary.
In its opinion on the proposal for a Regulation laying down a legal framework of the ESC, adopted at that plenary, the EESC expressed particular concern at the proposed merging of the ESC's goals with youth employment policies and suggested that the inclusion of job and traineeship placements in the programme should be reconsidered.
“Such an approach risks replacing paid work with unpaid labour for Europe's young people,” rapporteur Pavel Trantina said, adding that job and traineeship placements should be offered through other, existing EU programmes which already serve this purpose, but the solidarity aspect of which needed to be strengthened.
According to the EESC, the definition of volunteering, as set out in the document providing the legal basis of the ESC, is “very close to the description of a job placement” and the Commission should change it.
If job and traineeship placements are kept in the ESC, the Committee suggests that young people be remunerated in line with national legislation on wages and in keeping with applicable collective agreements. Furthermore, the provision of placements should be limited to non-profit organisations, foundations and social enterprises.
The ESC was first announced by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his 2016 State of the Union address. Its key objective is to strengthen cohesion and foster solidarity in society by allowing young people to take part in a wide range of solidarity-based activities. If approved by the European Parliament and the Council, the ESC will have a budget of EUR 341.5 million for the 2018 - 2020 period, by the end of which some 100 000 young Europeans will have had a chance to take part.
The ESC will be divided into three main activities which, apart from solidarity projects and networking, include three types of placements – solidarity, traineeship and job placements – that will be available to young people aged between 18 and 30.
Eighty percent of its budget will be earmarked for volunteering placements and the rest for job placements and traineeships. Some EUR 197.7 million, or almost 58% of the total ESC budget, will be reallocated from Erasmus+ and from its European Voluntary Service programme in particular.
The EESC expresses concern about such a reallocation of funds and stresses that investment in the ESC budget must not come at the expense of successful programmes offering invaluable opportunities to young people, particularly Erasmus+, which is already underfunded.
“We ask for more “fresh money” to be invested in the programme,” Mr Trantina said.
However, the EESC still firmly believes that the ESC should be fully implemented under Erasmus+, rather than by establishing an entirely new programme administered by Erasmus+ bodies, as this may ensure its continuity after 2020.
Mr Trantina said he hoped that the programme would not be limited to the initial 100 000 participants, but would mark the beginning of a wider volunteering strategy in the EU that could enable a hundred million active Europeans to take part.
As the voice of EU civil society, the EESC is happy to see that some of the priorities highlighted by civil society groups in various consultations organised by the Commission are being included in the legal basis.
According to the EESC, the ESC project has innovative aspects and added value in that it seeks to establish a clear awareness of European citizenship and a sense of belonging to one Union, in both participants and the communities hosting them.
The EESC is also calling, amongst other things, for youth organisations and social partners to be involved in the co-management of the ESC and for more support to be given to young people, including the disadvantaged, before their placement. It also suggests that the age limit of participants could be lowered to 16.