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The European Year of Volunteering activities promoting Active Citizenship (Rita Sassu)

Rita Sassu: ECP Italy, Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali


The Council Decision of 27 November 20091 defines the “European Year of Voluntary Activities promoting Active Citizenship (2011)” and thus dedicates the year 2011 to Volunteering, by adopting the Proposal of the European Commission of 3 June 20092 and the Opinion of the European Parliament of 26 November 2009.
The legal context of the Council Decision is provided by the Lisbon Treaty that establishes the European Citizenship, which constitutes an important element in the process of European integration. In this regard, volunteering represents a key dimension of the active involvement of citizens in the construction of a more democratic Europe, based on solidarity and on a non-discriminating, inclusive society.
The ECP – Europe for Citizens Point Italy, hosted by the Ministry of Cultural Goods and Activities, will organize a series of activities related to the European Year of Volunteering, such as the publication of a volume and the realization of at least one conference. The European Year of Volunteering represents, in fact, one of the Annual Priorities of the “Europe for Citizens” Programme scheduled for 2011.
Notwithstanding the different forms and meanings the term ‘volunteering’ takes on in each Member State, the common substratum that characterizes all kind of voluntary activities, which are based on each individual’s free choice, motivation and will, is represented by the lack of concern for financial gain. Volunteering actions can be carried out spontaneously by a single person or they can be performed, for example, in the context of a voluntary association, of a non-profit making organisation, etc. Although volunteering does not substitute nor replace professional, paid employment’s activities, it widely contributes to the development of a democratic society and benefits both the volunteers and the community.
On 5th December (International Volunteers Day) 2007, an alliance (not formally established) of major European NGO networks active in volunteering field met in CEV offices to start to work on a strategy aimed to declare 2011 as the European Year of Volunteering. As a result, a position paper was launched on 13th February 2008 in the European Parliament at a meeting of the Interest Group on Volunteering; the event was attended by representatives of the current Slovenian Presidency and the upcoming French Presidency of the European Council.
On 9 April 2008, five members of the European Parliament 3 launched a Written Declaration of the European Parliament on announcing 2011 as the European Year on Volunteering4. As the Declaration was signed by 454 members of the European Parliament before the deadline, established on 15 July 2008, the European Parliament – given that 100 millions of European persons are involved in volunteering activities, that, according to Eurobarometer, 3 out of 10 Europeans claim to be active in this field and, finally, that volunteering sector plays an essential role in economic growth and social inclusion – adopted the Written Declaration on announcing 2011 as the European Year on Volunteering5. Besides, following the adoption of the Declaration, a press conference was convoked on 16 July.
On 3 June 2009, the European Commission launched the Proposal for a Council Decision on the European Year of Volunteering6.
The Proposal aims to raise awareness on the relevance of volunteering and to remove the existing obstacles that volunteers and volunteering organizations still meet today, especially in terms of recognition, and to reach the main four goals: To create a more volunteer-friendly environment; to empower volunteer organisations, by promoting the cooperation between organisations that are active in this field as well as with other sectors throughout Europe; to recognize and to reward volunteering activities, and to highlight the value of volunteering, with special attention to its contribution to social cohesion and inclusion, to the creation of ‘Social Capital’, to the development of active citizenship, to the increase of the Gross Domestic Product, etc. These goals will be obtained, during 2011, by means of events, publications, studies and discussions, aimed to benefit volunteers and organizations active in volunteering field all over Europe – that will be enabled to know and to share examples of best practices –, public authorities and business entities and common citizens, thus sensitizing public awareness of volunteering.
The Council Decision on the European Year of Voluntary Activities promoting Active Citizenship (2011) is dated 27 November 2009.
The Decision recognizes the role played by voluntary activities in the promotion of active citizenship, social cohesion, civic participation, democracy and European integration and consequently the importance to support them as well as to ensure the exchange of good practices at local, regional, national and Community levels.
The general objective of the European Year is «to encourage and support — notably through the exchange of experience and good practices — the efforts of the Community, the Member States, local and regional authorities to create the conditions for civil society conducive to volunteering in the European Union (EU) and to increase the visibility of voluntary activities in the EU».
The specific objectives of the European Year shall be those already mentioned by the European Commission’s Proposal, concerning the creation of an appropriate and adequate environment to volunteering, that enables people to perform voluntary activities – whose quality has to be improved through the empowerment of organizations involved in volunteering, by encouraging networking, synergies and cooperation between them and other sectors in the European context.
Besides, policy-makers, public institutions, civil society organizations, the formal and non-formal education entities and employers should recognize voluntary activities and the skills, the competences, and the expertises acquired through them. The overall aim is to raise general awareness of the value of volunteering as an expression of active citizenship that contributes to the overcoming of issues common to all Member States.
The objectives of the European Year will be achieved by means of a series of initiatives that will take place at local, regional, national and European level and that will include: Events, for example conferences or seminars aimed to promote volunteering, to stimulate citizens to engage in voluntary activities as well as to celebrate volunteers and voluntary organizations; studies and research on volunteering and the dissemination of their results; exchange of experience and good practices at different levels; information and promotion campaigns to spread key messages.
The budget available for the implementation of the European Year consists of 8.000.000 Euro and will cover the period from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2011; it includes, inter alia, the grants for the National Coordinating Bodies, the grants for ‘flagship’ projects, the contracts for communication campaign and contracts for evaluation. Other Community funding for specific projects related to volunteering can be granted through existing Community Programmes, such as ‘Europe for Citizens Programme’ (actually, one of the Annual Priority Themes of this Programme is focused on the European Year of Volunteering).
Before the end of 2012, the European Commission shall submit a report to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the results and implementation of the European Year of Voluntary Activities promoting Active Citizenship.
During 2011, five high impact conferences will take place in European cities with the aim of bringing together entities active in the world of volunteering (to create networks, to share experiences and knowledge, to debate on relevant topics and common issues and to improve the quality of voluntary activities) as well as business and government parties, in order to define the respective competences and responsibilities in the field of volunteering and to cooperate in the building of an adequate infrastructure to promote volunteers and voluntary activities – that can include, for example, the creation of a legal framework able to formally recognize volunteering, although not affecting its autonomy.
The first conference has coincided with the media launch of the European Year, which has taken place in Brussels on 2 December 2010; the second event will be dedicated to the recognition of volunteering and will be held in Budapest, on January 2011; the third one, organized in Brussels in May, will deal with the achievements of volunteers, who are the ‘true heroes’ of the year; the fourth one, realized in Athens, will concern the quality of volunteering and the fifth one, centred on the need for a proper legal framework for volunteering, will take place in Warsaw.
The European Year of Volunteering foresees a Tour that lasts for one year and will move from one Member State to another – each stage of the tour takes place in a different European capital and lasts approximately ten days.
The tour contributes to promote volunteering, to spread awareness on it among general public and to stimulate citizens to involve in volunteering activities; meanwhile, it represents a great occasion for volunteers to meet each other, to exchange experiences and good practices, to discuss common issues, to make their activities and needs known to policy-makers.
Each stage of the Tour will be covered by the relay team, composed by 27 European volunteers (one from each Member State) with background on journalism, who will share stories and experiences with volunteers living in other Member States and will realize video and audio clips as well as articles to be disseminated through the media and via web.


NOTE
1 2010/37/EC. See the Official Journal of the European Union L 17/43, 22/01/2010
2Brussels, 03/06/2009, 2009/0072 (CNS).
3Marian Harkin, Gisela Kallenbach, Emmanouil Angelakas, Mieczyslaw Janowski and Joel Hasse Ferreira.
4More than half of the 785 members of the European Parliament would have to sign it within the next three months.
5The European Parliament has taken into account also that European Volunteer Centre, the European Youth Forum, the Association of Voluntary Service Organisations, the World Scouts Movement, the Red Cross/European Union Office, Volonteurope, AGE, Solidar, Caritas Europa, ENGAGE, Johanniter International, the European Non-Governmental Sports Organisation and others – all representing thousands of organisations involving millions of volunteers – have all called upon the European Institutions to announce 2011 as the European Year of Volunteering.
6Brussels, 3/06/2009, COM(2009) 254 final.