The European Economic and Social Committee has called upon the EU and the Member States to offer systematic and thoughtful support to volunteering. By doing so, it would acknowledge volunteering's immense impact on Europe's social development and its crucial role in implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and fostering social inclusion.
In its own-initiative opinion on volunteering, the EESC proposed that the EU declare 2025 the European Year of Volunteers, extend EU volunteer schemes and funding to older people and develop an EU-wide method to collect volunteering data that countries and organisations could share.
The opinion rapporteur, Krzysztof Pater, said: "The future of Europe will not be built by decision-makers, politicians or civil society organisations, but by active citizens and volunteers – by people who devote their free time to the benefit of society."
In Europe, one in five people volunteer every year. A recent survey showed that 25% of young Europeans were involved in an organised volunteering activity every year. Every day, volunteers of all ages and backgrounds donate their time to activities for other people or the environment, strengthening society and building a sustainable future.
"Systematic and full-scale support at EU and national level is needed because the impact of volunteering is many times greater than the potential costs," Mr Pater said. According to available data, volunteers' activity has real economic value, amounting in many countries to more than 2% of GDP.
Since the last European Year of Volunteering in 2011, volunteering has begun to gradually disappear from the European agenda. It has featured there only sporadically: the EU created the EU Aid Volunteers and the European Solidarity Corps and made volunteering a priority in its Europe for Citizens Programme.
In the EESC's view, the contribution of volunteers, and the well-being and sense of connection they experience in return, deserve wider recognition. (ll)