I have the honor to speak on behalf of the European Union. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe associated with the European Union Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the associated countries Cyprus, Malta and Turkey, as well as the EFTA country of the European Economic Area Norway, align themselves with this statement.
The dedication and enthusiasm that volunteers bring to their work and to projects in which they are involved is one of the best expressions of humanity – a simple desire to assist someone else without recompense, a basic element of human nature and a core value of the United Nations.
Since the launch of the International Year of Volunteers 2001, significant progress has been made towards enhancing the recognition, facilitation, networking and promotion of voluntary action, all of which are important goals of the International Year.
One key tool used in the pursuit of these goals merits special attention, namely the Internet. By significant use of this and other electronic media, volunteers have been able to expand their networks and enhance their exchange of knowledge and information. The Internet has connected the many diverse expressions of voluntary action and demonstrated its capacity as a multiplier of ideas and a means of sharing best practice. The EU welcomes the growth of voluntarism in cyberspace and encourages stakeholders to continue to make use of the opportunities provided by the Internet.
The challenge before us today is to consolidate the successes of the International Year, and to ensure that the momentum created by the Year is harnessed effectively to move the volunteer agenda forward.
As a result of the International Year, legislation and relevant policies in many countries have been improved to remove possible obstacles to voluntary work and to create opportunities for voluntary actions. Nevertheless, much still needs to be done to fully ensure that every society and every individual has the best opportunities to benefit from voluntary activities, both as volunteer and as beneficiary. The responsibility for this important task, to further expand the scope of voluntary activity and to secure its long-term viability, rests with governments. The EU is convinced that this can most effectively be done by developing partnerships with civil society and the private sector. Joint action by the public authorities and volunteer associations can help both to achieve their common objectives.
The Member States of the EU have used the impetus of the International Year to remove legal and administrative obstacles to voluntary activity in both national and international contexts, guided by the strategic objectives formulated by the United Nations within the framework of the International Year. In our ongoing efforts to improve the environment for voluntary activity, we will look closely at the Recommendations and information offered by the Secretary General in his Report as well as the recommendations contained in the annex to last years resolution A/56/38.
Voluntary work promotes social participation, active citizenship, and strengthens civil society. It can help maintain and improve society’s stability and cohesion. Whatever its form, volunteering builds trust and solidarity. It has proven to be a means of reconciliation and reconstruction. When the underprivileged and the prosperous join together in voluntary activities, innovative partnerships can be created and bridges built between all sectors of society.
Voluntary activities have already made substantial contributions in the fields of promoting human rights and international solidarity, combating racism, environmental protection, and sustainable development and have thus helped in the implementation o the goals and commitments of the Millennium Declaration.. By encouraging voluntary work, governments as well as the international community can make significant progress in many areas of global interest and concern. For example, voluntary work is regarded as crucial for achieving the internationally agreed development goals including those set out by international conferences and summits, and contained in the Millennium Declaration. This was recently confirmed in Johannesburg, where voluntary contributions were explicitly highlighted in several areas including disaster management, ensuring safe drinking water and environmental and social responsibility and accountability. Furthermore, voluntary involvement of people in the projects and programmes affecting them directly a step towards people-centred development – is a key factor for successful outcomes.
Yet, when drawing on voluntary work, governments must recognise and respect the independent nature of these contributions. They can be of significant economic value for national economies. But the responsibility taken or the economic value of voluntary activity can and should never replace the responsibility of governments towards their citizens.
It is a recognised fact that volunteers gain great personal reward from becoming involved in voluntary activity both in terms of practical knowledge and the development of personal and occupational skills, which can be drawn on in other aspects of life. An individuals engagement in this type of human and social activity enhances self-esteem and widens social, economic and cultural networks around the world. It is, thus, of utmost importance to promote a society where all persons can involve themselves in voluntary activities regardless of social, economic or cultural background.
The EU reiterates the importance of voluntary involvement of particularly young people and of older persons. Voluntary work can help develop creativity and a spirit of enterprise in the young people. It also makes for social innovation. The Second World Assembly on Ageing held in Madrid in April this year recognised volunteering of older persons as essential for the full implementation of the Plan of Action adopted by the Assembly. When combined, these two groups of volunteers allow for intergenerational transfer and development of knowledge, experience and innovation, to the benefit of society and the volunteers themselves.
The European Union takes this opportunity to draw the Member States’ attention to the draft resolution on the follow-up to the IYV, which is tabled by Brazil today.
We also wish to take the opportunity to reaffirm our support to the Office of the United Nations Volunteers and its role as central coordinator for volunteers and voluntary work.
We hope that all stakeholders will use todays general debate and the celebration of the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development on 5 December to demonstrate their true commitment to further raise the profile of volunteering, to make voluntarism prosper, and to allow international society to gain from this example of humanity.