Volunteering is an important expression of active citizenship; it builds social capital, contributes to social cohesion and solidarity, provides valuable economic benefits to society and enables individuals to realise their potential.
Volunteering "refers to all types of voluntary activities which are undertaken of a person’s own free will, choice and motivation, and is without concern for financial gain".
In view of the current crisis in Europe, demographic change and related challenges, it is important to recognise the key role volunteering plays for individuals as a facilitator for inclusion, empowerment, skills building and networking. However, volunteering needs to be clearly distinguished from paid employment and should by no means replace it.
In order to provide an effective, sustainable environment for volunteering, the EESC recommends that the EU institutions and Member States take steps to ensure that national and EU legislation enables and encourages volunteering, protects volunteers and removes legal impediments to their activities.
However, regulation that restricts or prevents volunteering by being too descriptive or showing a lack of understanding of local volunteering traditions should be avoided.
The European Commission should encourage the establishment of an efficient, well-organised infrastructure for volunteering at the level of the EU and Member States.
The EU and Member States should ensure accessible, reliable and sustainable conditions for funding the voluntary sector and help volunteering organisations to adapt to the new funding environment.
The EU institutions and Member States should allow and support volunteering as a contribution in kind for co-funding.
The EESC suggests that some practical steps be taken to maintain the legacy of the European Year of Volunteering beyond 2011 and to keep volunteering on national and European public agendas.
A more coordinated approach towards volunteering policy is needed from the EU institutions. It should be recognised as a cross-cutting policy theme and co-ordinated by a special unit within the European Commission, boosted by the required policy structures in other EU institutions.