Why a European Year of Volunteering in 2011?
More than 100 million Europeans engage in voluntary activities, live solidarity and through this make a difference to our society. A Eurobarometer survey in 2006 revealed that 3 out of 10 Europeans claim to be active in a voluntary capacity and that close to 80% of respondents feel that voluntary activities are an important part of democratic life in Europe.
There is a vast array of notions, definitions and traditions concerning volunteering. However, what is common throughout Europe is that wherever people engage together in activities to help each other, support those in need, preserve our environment, campaign for human rights, or to initiate actions to help ensure that everyone enjoys a decent life - both society as a whole and the individual volunteers benefit and social cohesion is significantly strengthened.
Why volunteering matters:
- Volunteers are the agents of European values and objectives as laid down in the Treaties, in particular in terms of promoting social cohesion, solidarity, and active participation – theirs are the hands that translate these values into action, day after day;
- Volunteering contributes to building a European identity rooted in these values and towards attaining a mutual understanding between people in society and across Europe;
- Volunteering in its horizontal nature is indispensable in a wide range of EU policy areas such as social inclusion, the provision of life-long learning opportunities for all, policies affecting young people, inter-generational dialogue, active aging, integration of migrants, intercultural dialogue, civil protection, humanitarian aid and development, sustainable development and environmental protection, human rights, social service delivery, raising employability, the promotion of an active European citizenship, fighting the "digital gap", and within corporate social responsibility;
- Volunteering is an economic factor. The voluntary sector contributes an estimated 5% to the GDP of our national economies;
- Volunteers and their organisations are at the forefront of developing innovative actions to detect, voice and respond to needs arising in society.
Volunteers mirror the diversity of European society with people of all ages, women and men, employees and unemployed, people from different ethnic backgrounds and belief groups and finally citizens from all nationalities being involved.
However, 7 in 10 people do not volunteer and many people face barriers towards volunteering such as a lack of information on how to become involved; time pressure; scarce economic resources and the feeling of not being able to "afford" to volunteer; a negative image of volunteering stemming from times where volunteering was a rather "compulsory duty"; discrimination; discouraging legal provisions and an absence of a legal status; missing protection against risks involved; visa or other barriers for non EU citizens – to name just a few of these obstacles.
Volunteering is freely given, but not cost free – it needs and deserves targeted support from all stakeholders – volunteer organisations, government at all levels, businesses and an enabling policy environment including a volunteering infrastructure.
2011 will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the UN International Year of Volunteers (IYV): IYV 2001 demonstrated that high-level public attention for volunteers and their contribution to society leads to governments and other stakeholders committing to joint action. Synergies can be sought with the UN's activities in 2011, to take stock of the progress made so far and to develop a European policy agenda for volunteering "2011 +".
While the EU has increasingly paid attention to volunteering in all its forms over recent years, we are still far from a comprehensive strategy and action at the European level to promote, recognize, facilitate and support volunteering in order to realize its full potential.