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24th Aug 2017

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EU 'rebrands' youth corps

  • The EU commission aims to have 100,000 volunteers in the scheme by 2020. (Photo: Ruben Bos)

Five months after its official launch in December 2016, the European Commission presented the budget proposal and legal base on Tuesday (30 May) for the European Solidarity Corps.

The new scheme – announced by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in his state of the union address last September – aims to get young unemployed people into volunteering activities or traineeships that “promote solidarity” in their own countries or abroad.

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Up to now, the EU solidarity corps have built on existing EU funding and mobility programmes, such as Erasmus+, Europe for Citizens or the programme for Employment and Social Innovation.

For this "second phase", the EU executive plans to allocate €341 million from 2018 to 2020 to the scheme – with 80 percent dedicated to volunteering activities and the remaining 20 percent to job placements.

“Re-branding” of existing programmes

From youth organisations to the European Parliament’s committee on culture and education, many feared that the new solidarity corps would take funding from these already existing programmes, and instead demanded “fresh money” for the corps.

However, the EU solidarity corps is now set to replace the European Voluntary Service (EVS), a 20-year-old mobility programme made for young people to volunteer in another EU or neighbouring country.

“The EU solidarity corps will now cover the 28 EU member states,” whereas the European Voluntary Service will survive for activities and projects in the EU’s neighbourhood, announced EU commissioner Tibor Navracsics before Tuesday's EU parliament committee meeting on culture and education.

Therefore, funding from the existing EVS in the EU member states will cease to exist at the expense the corps’ activities. This prompted MEP Sabine Verheyen to call the proposal a “re-branding” of existing programmes to “boost [volunteering activities’] visibility,” rather than a completely new idea.

According to Navracsics, the EU solidarity corps will be “an EVS+”, with more funding available and a new “one-stop shop” portal.

“We have to admit that the European Voluntary Service has not been very successful”, the commissioner added, as only 100,000 people have volunteered in 20 years – which is the same amount the EU commission aims to reach by 2020 with the solidarity corps.

However, while 30,000 people have subscribed to the EU solidarity corps’ database since December 2016, only around 112 employers have looked for participants so far.

Most applicants from southern Europe

Any young adult looking for a traineeship or volunteering experience can register for a “match-making portal” of volunteers and organisations – with no formal education or language requirements.

After that, it is up to the companies and organisations to make offers and contact candidates, according to the skills and profile they are looking for.

The EU commission sees the solidarity corps as a yet another way to tackle Europe’s youth unemployment problems, by providing placements for young people.

Unemployment rates are decreasing slowly in the EU, but 48 percent of under-25s in Greece remain unemployed, followed by 41.5 percent in Spain and 36.7 percent in Italy.

And it is Italy – followed by Spain and Portugal – that tops the ranking of registrations for the EU solidarity corps so far.

While southern Europe’s youth seems to be mostly enthusiastic about it, some have raised their concerns that the corps’ mobility component could lead to an even bigger brain drain, whereby young people leave to pursue education and work elsewhere.

So, to address this concern, the EU executive will also allow members of the programme to participate in projects in their own countries.

Not a 'fake solution' to unemployment

The European Youth Forum said, in a previous statement, that the solidarity corps’ occupational strand should not be a “fake solution” to tackle youth unemployment. It should also not create “precarious [working] conditions”.

The traineeships will be subject to the labour laws of the host country, and projects must follow a strict set of quality criteria.

“We don’t want to compete with the ordinary labour market; we don’t want people to cut ordinary jobs to replace those by volunteers”, said Guenther Oettinger, the EU budget commissioner.

The EU commission hopes the parliament and the council will adopt the proposal by January 2018 – a hope that comes under heavy “time pressure,” according to centre-left MEP Petra Kammerevert, the parliament’s culture committee chair.

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