Celebrate and empower volunteering for a sustainable future

To promote volunteering, the EU should create a European Year of Volunteers in 2025, reach out to older volunteers and collect data on this activity which is of precious value for Europe's future, says the EESC

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has called upon the EU and Member States to offer systematic and thoughtful support to volunteering. By doing so, it would acknowledge its immense impact on Europe's social development and its crucial role in implementing UN sustainable development goals and fostering social inclusion.

In its own-initiative opinion on volunteering, adopted at its December plenary session, the EESC proposed that the EU declared 2025 the European Year of Volunteers, extended EU volunteer schemes and funding to older people, and set an EU-wide method to collect volunteering data that countries and organisations could share.

Rapporteur of the opinion, Krzsysztof 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 each 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 a sustainable future.

Systematic and full scale support on the 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, the activity of volunteers has real economic value, amounting in many countries to more than 2% of GDP.

Since the last European Year of Volunteering in 2011, volunteering began to gradually disappear from the European agenda. It featured there only sporadically: the EU created the EU Aid Volunteers, the European Solidarity Corps and made volunteering a priority in its Europe for Citizens Programme. On 5 December, International Volunteer Day celebrates this socially important work worldwide.

In the EESC's view, the contribution of volunteers, and the well-being and sense of connection they experience in return, deserve wider recognition.

A European Year of Volunteers in 2025, as proposed by the EESC, would expand awareness of volunteering and its benefits at a time when post-pandemic communities will still need support to recover and reconnect.

Above all, this event would pay tribute to Europe’s millions of volunteers and encourage more to join them. At the same time, it would be an opportunity for countries to share know-how and for the EU to expand, create and inform citizens about programmes for volunteers.

A simple call to proclaim 2025 the European year of volunteering is the best tool to achieve progress in Member States and at the EU level, Mr Pater stressed. It would be a fitting tribute to the efforts and impact of all volunteers during the COVID-19 crisis, highlighting their importance for the recovery and the future of Europe based on solidarity, respect, equality and shared values.

Expand access and harmonise data

Another key demand in the EESC opinion is for wider access to programmes, improving solidarity between generations and communities and, especially, enabling older people to remain active citizens through volunteering.

The EESC calls for the European Solidarity Corps and other EU funded programmes to be extended to those older than 30-years-old or to develop a similar scheme for older volunteers. The Committee welcomed the recent proposal by the Council of the European Union to set up a Commission-led digital platform on volunteering after working life, supporting both potential volunteers and organisations.

Other economic and practical barriers to volunteering must be addressed. For example, people should be able to volunteer without losing benefits, and insurance and safety checks should be harmonised to support cross-border work, said the EESC.

Another problem is that so far, only a limited amount of research into volunteering has been carried out in Member States. To set policies for ethical volunteering in line with needs and people’s availability, policymakers must also have comparable data on volunteering activity in all Member States. This data could cover societal and economic impacts, time donated, or details about how different social groups volunteer.

The EESC proposed the (ILO) Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work as a framework for all organisations to enhance volunteering across the EU.

Such a package of measures coordinated by the European Commission would encourage the Member States to comprehensively support voluntary activities and make sure that the issue of volunteering is not an occasional but permanent element of European policy.