I have the honor to speak on behalf of the European Union. The Central and Eastern European countries associated with the EU, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, the other associated countries, Cyprus, Malta and Turkey and the EFTA countries belonging to the European Economic Area, Iceland and Liechtenstein, have aligned themselves to this statement.
The decision taken by the General Assembly in 1997 to designate 2001 the International Year of Volunteers, the closing of which we are celebrating today, has done much to focus the attention of the international community on voluntary work. Volunteering exists in one form or another in most societies. Helping others by giving one’s time and effort, of one’s own volition and without pay, is a form of social and human behavior, which has yet to receive the recognition that it deserves. Voluntary work promotes social participation and active citizenship, and strengthens civil society. It can also help to maintain society’s stability and cohesion. Volunteering in its various forms is a plus for society, for it is a conduit for universal values in terms of human rights, democracy, combating racism, solidarity and sustainable development.
When the underprivileged and the comfortably off join together in voluntary activities innovative partnerships can be created and bridges built between the various sectors of society. So voluntary work is therefore also a major element in the fight against poverty.
The action of volunteers also impacts on many areas of global interest, particularly human rights awareness, environmental protection, the universal ban on antipersonnel mines, the fight against racism, women’s rights, health, and managing and mitigating the effects of disasters, to name but a few.
It is the task of governments to draw up strategies and programmes to promote volunteer work. However, if the scope of volunteer programmes is to be expanded and their long-term viability guaranteed, there must be a partnership between the public authorities and civil society. Volunteering represents a vast pool of skills and resources, ready to be invested in governmental projects. Joint action by the public authorities and volunteer associations can help both to achieve their common objectives.
Volunteering also has considerable advantages for the volunteers themselves. The men and women who commit to voluntary work have an opportunity to develop social, economic and cultural ties, acquire practical knowledge, develop a number of personal and occupational skills which improve their job prospects, and create reserves of goodwill which can be drawn on when necessary.
Many young people are active in various forms of voluntary work. This helps develop creativity and a spirit of enterprise in the young and makes for social innovation. Young people who do voluntary work are better able to develop their capacities and share knowledge, so that volunteering makes them more employable and better able to participate in society in general.
During this International Year of Volunteers, the Ministers of the European Union meeting in the Youth Council, approved, on 29 November, a Resolution on the added value of voluntary activity for young people in the context of the development of Community action on youth. A copy of that document is annexed to the written version of this speech.
The Resolution adopted on 29 November invites the Member States to take the measures they deem appropriate to remove legal and administrative obstacles so as to provide every opportunity for youth voluntary activity in a national and international context. It invites the Commission and the Member States, within their respective spheres of competence, to take measures to strengthen, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the role of voluntary activity for young people, and in so doing to take as their guide, where appropriate, the strategic objectives formulated by the United Nations in the framework of the International Year of Volunteers. It also exhorts them to develop policy on voluntary activity for young people and strengthen European cooperation in this area, using elements which result from the strategic objectives of the UN Resolution proclaiming 2001 the International Year of Volunteers, i.e. the accessibility and promotion of voluntary activity, recognition and support for voluntary activity, incentives and facilities, networking between all parties involved and, finally, quality care. The Resolution invites the Member States and the Commission to recognize the importance of experience gained in the context of youth voluntary activity and to collate and exchange good practice in that regard. Finally, it asks them to support all the parties involved in the implementation of voluntary activity for young people.
The aim of the Youth Ministers of the European Union in adopting that Resolution was to highlight the role of the main players in youth policy, i.e. the young themselves and youth workers, as well as to give volunteering its rightful place among the initiatives resulting from the Commission’s White Paper on Youth.
The EU and its Member States would like to emphasize how much importance they attach to developing volunteering for the middle-aged and older persons, which plays already an important role in very many countries. This form of volunteering, which completes the voluntary work by the younger generation allows for an intergenerational transfer of knowledge and experience. It gives great satisfaction not only to society as a whole, but also to the volunteers themselves, who no longer risk to be excluded or rejected by the younger generations.
The European Union takes this opportunity to draw the Member States’ attention to the draft resolution on recommendations on support for volunteering which the Netherlands and Japan are jointly tabling today.
In conclusion, the European Union wishes to congratulate the United Nations Volunteers Programme, which acted as central coordinator for the International Year of Volunteers, for its work to achieve better recognition of volunteering, facilitate the action of volunteers, set up networks and promote volunteering. The European Union wishes to reaffirm its support for the United Nations Volunteers and encourages them to continue their efforts, to the benefit of the degree and incidence of volunteering worldwide.