European Solidarity Corps: let’s make it a great opportunity!

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The European Commission is now piloting the European Solidarity Corps (ESC), using eight different programmes, each one with its own legal basis, objectives and budget (Erasmus+EaSILIFEAsylum and Migration FundHealth programme, the Europe for Citizens programmeEuropean Regional Development FundAgricultural Fund for Rural Development).

In order to create a separate ESC programme, at the end of May the European Commission released a proposal for a regulation establishing the European Solidarity Corps. Now the negotiations start with the European Parliament and the Council of Member states. The Council will discuss the matter for the first time of 7 July, and the European Parliament plans to have their draft report on the matter in mid October. The objective is to have an agreement by the end of the year, with a final discussion on the topic on 20November at the Council meeting on youth, and the approval of the legislation by the European Parliament on 11 December.

Within this tight decision making timeline, it is not easy to make the voice of civil society heard. In fact, the ESC can only be successful and engage 100.000 young people by 2020 if it is based on the good practice of organisations who have been running similar volunteering abroad programmes for decades; such as AFS.

Youth organisations welcome this initiative of the European Commission which aims at putting solidarity at the centre and looks at volunteering as an activity that benefits society as a whole and civil society organizations in particular. The current legislative proposal foresees two strands, namely the volunteering (80%) and employment  (20%) strands. The volunteering strand is financed with the budget originally dedicated to European Voluntary Service within Erasmus+.  Several new actions are foreseen, which are promising and would open up many opportunities:

- long term volunteering in another EU country (current EVS)

- local initiatives run by minimum 5 people registered in the ESC portal, from the same country (2 – 12 months)

- European volunteering teams joining European volunteering projects (2 weeks – 2 months)

- networking activities related to ESC at European level to by applied by European networks

In terms of design of the overall initiative, EFIL and most of the European Youth Forum members, believe that mixing volunteering and employment in the same programme might bring around a misunderstanding of what volunteering really is about. The core values of volunteering are also hindered by the too wide definition of solidarity activities and the fact that companies can also apply to host volunteers.  Furthermore, the establishment of an online portal where young people can register if they wish to volunteer aims at being inclusive in theory but in practice it will only gather the young people who are already motivated for mobility and skilled, and it risks to increase dissatisfaction towards the EU since youth register full of motivation and hope, and then might never be contacted for a placement. Volunteering is about the feeling of belonging to an organisation and a cause, and thus investing free time for contributing to its activities: it is not about being chosen by an organisation to volunteer for them.

In terms of management of the programme, the legislative proposal mentions the fact that participating organisations need to have a Quality label. We very much welcome the idea of guaranteeing quality mobility and we call on the Commission to base the label on the European Charter for Quality Learning Mobility. However, we would like that the role of the partnership between sending and hosting organisation, to ensure quality and outreach, is stressed. In fact, at the moment it is not clear if the programme will work with sending organisations, or young people registered on the online ESC portal, will be recruited directly by the hosting organisations who will be granted funding for volunteering projects. EFIL strongly advocates to ensure that sending organisations are kept as key player in the programme to ensure reaching out to all young people, support, training, follow up, and re-integration in volunteering activities in the home country. We would like that ESC functions like the current strategic EVS programme, namely:  participating organisations (applicants) get the ESC quality label and then they can apply for a project including many hosting spots in different organisations and guarantee the quality of the hosting organisations.  Then the participating organisation can access the database of people registered to ESC and contact them directly to offer the hosting spots, and the volunteers are free to deny the offer. Participants in ESC cannot be charged any fee. The European Parliament’s S&D group shares these concerns.

In terms of geographical scope, for the period  2018-2020 the ESC will only be for the EU28, this means that Norway, Iceland and Turkey will be left out of the programme, until they negotiate bilateral agreements. The EVS with Norway, Iceland, Turkey, Partner countries and the rest of the world will continue under Erasmus+ until 2020. The European Youth Forum is very much in favour of advocating for a wider scope, but this will probably be implemented only as from 2021 with the new Multi Financial Framework.

Here you can read the reaction of the European Youth Forum on the regulation proposal.

Thanks to the help of the European Youth Forum, EFIL closely follows the developments related to this initiative to ensure that it meets the criteria of quality mobility, is based on the core values of volunteering, and AFS organisations can take part!

For more information: elisa.briga@afs.org