2011: European Year of Voluntary Activities
Almost 100 million adults are involved in volunteering in the EU. The Council decided at the end of 2009 to declare 2011 the European Year of Voluntary Activities Promoting Active Citizenship to support it.
“A culture which would calculate the cost of everything, forcing human relationships into a strait jacket of rights and duties, is able to realize, thanks to the countless people who freely donate their time and service to others, that life is an unmerited gift.” These words by Benedict XVI show the real contribution of volunteering to our societies, offering, as remarked by John Paul II, “the witness to the value of unselfish giving”.
According to the Study on Volunteering in the European Union there are around 92 to 94 million adults involved in volunteering in the EU (near 23% of Europeans aged over 15 years). The Study points out that there is a positive correlation between education levels and the tendency to volunteer. Many voluntary activities and services involve the promotion of social cohesion, as well as social inclusion and integration, which are in turn often important elements of European social policy. It plays an important role in the fostering of civil society and democracy. Even economically, volunteering represents the 1% to 2% of GDP in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain, more than 2% of GDP in the UK, Finland and Denmark, and between 3% and 5% in Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden.
The strong social impact of volunteering and its benefits for active citizenship motivated the adoption by the Council of its Decision of 27 November 2009 on the European Year of Voluntary Activities Promoting Active Citizenship (2011), reminding that the Declaration 38 on voluntary activities was attached to the Final Act of the Treaty of Amsterdam. “Voluntary activities” refers to all types of voluntary activity, whether formal, non-formal or informal which are undertaken of a person’s own free will, choice and motivation, and is without concern for financial gain. Special importance in Europe is volunteering in the field of sports (around 10 million volunteers active in about 700,000 sport clubs throughout the EU), mentioned by Article 165.1 TFEU.
The objectives of the European Year of Volunteering (EYV) –funded with 8 millions of euros- will be: to enable environment for volunteering in the EU; to empower organizations of voluntary activities to improve their quality; to recognize voluntary activities at social, economic and political level; and to raise awareness of its value and importance.
The initiatives involved –with the participation of the national coordination bodies of the Member States- vary from the exchange of experience and good practices and the undertaking of studies and research, to the organization of conferences and events, and the dissemination of key messages through information and promotion’s campaigns.
Following the mandate of the TFEU (Art. 214.5), the European Commission has adopted on 23 November 2010 a Communication aiming to establishing the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps (EVHAC), aiming to set up a framework for joint contributions from European volunteers to humanitarian aid operations of the Union. “With the new corps, many of our citizens will become ambassadors of European solidarity around the world”, said Commissioner Georgieva last November.
Volunteering, a “truly sign of the times”, has always existed and it is part of a Christian cultural legacy to the society. But it should not be a “temptation for governments to serve themselves by absolving responsibility which the law has given them, and leaving it to the completed by volunteerism” as Archbishop Cordes said in 2002. Although volunteering is in the heart of the Christian message, it is not the work of the Church, per se, to guarantee the well-being of citizens but a duty of the state and the society. The Church is not a NGO nor can be reduced to humanitarian categories. A highly diffused danger is the belief that Christian experience can be substituted with good will activity: “the volunteer must be related with the person of Christ”. As Benedict XVI reminds us: “Volunteer work is really about the heart of the Christian image of God and man: love of God and love of neighbour.”
This EYV should be the starting point for a future Commission’s White Paper on Volunteereing with comprehensive policy agenda -linked to a possible European Year for Active Ageing (2012)-, a good chance to empower the vulnerable groups and promoting the legal and social protection of young volunteers.
José Luis Bazán
 European Commission, White Paper on Sport, 11.7.2007.