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Summary: 17 June, Brussels – The Treaty of Lisbon tasked the European Commission with the set-up of a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps.
Volunteering has high appeal among Europeans – a 2010 Eurobarometer (Standard Eurobarometer 73: May-November 2010, pages 167-172) survey showed that one in three young Europeans (30%) is engaged in voluntary actions and keen to make a difference in society. An even higher number of European citizens - 34% - believe that "Solidarity and Humanitarian Aid" play the most important role in volunteering. The Treaty of Lisbon tasked the European Commission with the set-up of a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps (Article 214.5 of the Lisbon Treaty states: "In order to establish a framework for joint contributions from young Europeans to the humanitarian aid operations of the Union, a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps shall be set-up").
When the first European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, took up her post in February 2010, she picked this innovation of the Treaty as one of her priorities. The European Commission decided not to rush into proposals for new legislation, but to consult stakeholders, review existing volunteering platforms and produce a policy paper with its own reflections (European Commission Communication COM (2010) 683 - How to express EU citizen's solidarity through volunteering: First reflections on a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps). Its aim was to have a clear picture of the challenges and to identify gaps and areas where the Voluntary Corps would bring real added-value, supporting and complementing existing schemes.
Through the European Commission’s own analysis and two rounds of Public Consultations, several areas were identified in which the future Corps can add value and bolster both Europeans’ volunteering interest, and the expression of our collective solidarity to the people and communities in humanitarian distress. These areas include:
- identification and selection of volunteers (aimed at having the right people at the right place at the right time);
- training, the development of common standards and good practices;
- deployment of European volunteers in EU humanitarian aid operations.
On the basis of this analysis and consultations, and in the spirit of the European Year of Volunteering, the European Commission is moving to the next stage - the set-up of the network of European humanitarian aid volunteers and the launch of three pilot projects.
First Volunteering projects selected
The pilot projects will help the European Commission determine how European volunteers can best complement the work of non-governmental relief organisations. Three key partner organisations of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) were selected to run the pilots, to test different options, and to give feedback for the launch of the full-fledged Corps:
1. The French Red Cross (plus other partners - the Austrian, Bulgarian and German Red Cross organisations and the International Federation of the Red Cross, IFRC, in Switzerland). The project focuses on the identification, recruitment, training, preparation and deployment for six months of 21 volunteers, according to professional Red Cross standards, at the request of national Red Cross societies. The volunteers will participate in humanitarian aid operations before or after a disaster. The target group is young and qualified, but inexperienced volunteers with the ambition to work in the humanitarian sector.
2. Save the Children (UK) (plus Network of Humanitarian Assistance NOHA and Bioforce France as partners, and Caritas/Czech Republic, Save the Children/Denmark and Die Johanniter/Germany as associated organisations). The project will develop a year-long training programme for humanitarian competence, particularly for project officers and specialised logistics officers. Training will be provided to 30 volunteers, and the first deployment to international humanitarian projects will take place after five months. Of the volunteers, 20 with limited overseas experience will be deployed twice for four to five months; the other ten places will be reserved for volunteers with a European Master in international humanitarian law (NOHA programme) or a Bioforce accredited training scheme for humanitarian programme managers
3. Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO/United Kingdom – with partners VSO/The Netherlands and Pro Vobis, the national Resource Center for Volunteering in Romania). In this project, 40 volunteer experts will be selected for involvement and deployment to disaster preparedness and post-conflict recovery sites. The aim is to develop best practice standards for the selection of humanitarian volunteers, for the management of such volunteers and for training curricula and materials for volunteer management organisations. This project will test a formal accreditation mechanism through which volunteers can earn university credits.
The EU as humanitarian donor
The EU as a whole – European Commission plus Member States – is the world’s largest source of humanitarian aid. In 2010, the European Commission alone spent more than one billion EUR on humanitarian assistance. Since 1992, it has financed and coordinated humanitarian operations in more than 100 countries outside the EU. Its relief assistance goes directly to people in distress, irrespective of their nationality, religion, gender, ethnic origin or political affiliation. The main mission is to save lives and relieve the suffering of people caught up crises.