A recent European Commission proposal will be discussed in September by the European Parliament, which if approved will mean the end for the European Voluntary Service that will be replaced by the European Solidarity Corps from January 2018.
The new proposal will cut funds available for each volunteer project in order to drastically increase the number of volunteers and eliminate EVS sending and coordinating entities.
Sending organizations play a supporting role for young people before, during and after the volunteer period.
Their disappearance will have very serious qualitative consequences for the program especially for young people with fewer opportunities that need more support and guidance structures to be able to join the programme. That would put a sudden end to the priorities advocated by the European Union for an inclusive growth towards the young people with fewer opportunities. This seems to be in contrast with the values of solidarity and inclusion that are the bases of the Erasmus+ programme and of the European Union, as it would raise barriers to most disadvantaged youth and privilege those who were most fortunate.
The end of coordinating organizations, caused by the changes in the accreditation system and the budget cut, will result in the lack of opportunities for organizations with less experience and less planning skills to participate in the program.
The exit of the most experienced organizations will also mean the loss of their accumulated experience over the years thanks to Erasmus + staff training opportunities.
Moreover, the exclusion from the program of the so-called Partner countries (Western Balkans, Eastern Partnership Countries, South Mediterranean countries and Russian Federation) unless unspecified bilateral agreements, will block the work of hundreds of organizations that have been successfully working in these countries in recent years, subordinating the continuation of the activities to political agreements to be signed again, without certainty about ways and times.
With this reform, a huge amount of skills accumulated in 20 years of EVS will be lost, in which training and quality research have led to a solid program regarding support of volunteers and monitoring of the activities carried out.
With this reform the cornerstones of EVS will fail, many good practices will necessarily be abandoned and action that has been proved to be an absolute excellence will end up to give way to quantity at the expenses of quality.
The network of signatory organizations therefore requests the proposal to be rejected by the European Parliament and that a new proposal shall be formulated following a consultation involving all former volunteers as well as sending, hosting or coordinating organisations of EVS projects.
The European Commission proposal can be found at this link: https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/initiatives/com-2017-262_en
IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS OF THE EUROPEAN SOLIDARITY CORPS (ESC) PROPOSAL:
After an in-depth analysis of the proposed Regulation on the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) we highlight the main negative points of the proposal:
1 – the new estimated volunteer mobility average cost (€ 3264 per volunteer, as shown in the table 3.2.2. Estimated impact on operational appropriations on page 55 of the English version of the proposal) means a monthly allocation between € 300 and € 400 (depending on the estimated average length of mobilities) per volunteer without including travel refunds and pocket money. This means a cut of at least 30% and up to 50% of the budget compared to the current situation;
2 – a total amount between 20% and 40% of the Erasmus+ Youth budget will be diverted to ESC funding for the years 2018, 2019 and 2020. The impression is that, due to European Union budget constraints, the budget for EVS will be almost entirely transferred to ESCs. It seems that the whole reform is done without increasing the budget consistently (less than 5% of the total budget planned for ESCs will come from programmes other than Erasmus+) while it is expected to dramatically increase the number of mobility so that in three years the amount of volunteers sent/received (100,000) will exceed that of those who participated in EVS in 20 years;
3 – the quality mark replacing the EVS system of accreditation only provides hosting accreditation (and therefore neither sending nor coordinating accreditations); it is also unclear if the procedures of quality monitoring would remain unchanged: it seems that the number of volunteers that every hosting organisation will be able to host will be removed, liberalizing the program wildly and affecting the efficiency of the EVS monitoring and control structure;
4 – the European Solidarity Corps scheme will include only the so-called “programme countries” of the Erasmus+ Program, thus ending the cooperation with neighboring countries (Western Balkans, Eastern Partnership Countries, South Mediterranean countries and Russian Federation), unless bilateral agreements are signed – and they would have to be done from scratch.
5 – the themes foreseen in the European Solidarity Corps database are very limited and do not include many themes present in the EVS programme. This could lead to a narrowing of the focus of the new programme and the loss of many existing youth organisations.
6 – the European Solidarity Corps does not plan any sending organisations on the European Solidarity Corps activities, preferring the connection between youths and organizations through the online portal. If the online connection system implementation can be useful for a certain category of young people, to us it seems essential to provide an individual support for all the young people, a support even more needed for the most disadvantaged, who have been able to take part in EU programmes until now only thanks to that support. We insist on the need to involve sending organizations in order to ensure the quality experience and the accessibility of the European Solidarity Corps.
MAIN RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE IMPACT STUDY ON EVS:
The Study on Impact of Transnational Volunteering through EVS commissioned by the EC and published in April 2017 is a large study on EVS impact based on 10.480 questionnaires, of which 8.600 from individuals and almost 1900 organisations with a qualitative data collection based on 100 targeted interviews and 15 in-depth case studies. Some of the results of this research are particularly interesting for ESC proposal:
EVS could be improved by:
Reinforcing the role of the sending organisations in selecting and “matching” volunteers, with a particular focus on reaching out to young people with fewer opportunities, motivating them for mobility, and accompanying them with adequate support throughout the experience (before, during and after the EVS);
Improving the capacity and resources of EVS host organisations to ensure consistently high-quality EVS activities, and to provide high-quality pre-departure preparation and follow-up upon return of EVS volunteers. This could include the training of mentors, training on maximising the impact on the local community, and training on supporting volunteers with specific needs. Coordinating organisations and National Agencies are already playing a role in addressing these weaknesses, but their role could be further strengthened and better resourced;
For EVS sending organisations, concrete proposals for their improvement include training on how to reach specific target groups and how to prepare them for mobility. Some project leaders believe that for smaller or new applicant organisations, it would be beneficial to have targeted training on issues such as budget management, reporting, monitoring and volunteer management.
The consequences of the proposed reform that we would like to prevent are:
– the cancellation of the budget for the selection, preparation, support and follow-up of volunteers:
We know from our experience how difficult it is to involve and support young people with fewer opportunities in these activities and we think it’s of vital importance the role of sending organisations in informing young people of available opportunities, involving them in mobility by building a relationship based on mutual knowledge and trust, provide them with sufficient preparation and support before and during the volunteering period abroad and, last but not least, to help them recognize, evaluate and re-invest the skills acquired during their stay abroad in their original context;
The sending organization lifts the mobility constraints through actions of information, sensitization and preparation to volunteering and intercultural experience. It ensures follow-up from distance (preventing conflicts and abandonment) and helps the volunteers to evaluate their acquired skills. It thus guides all the young people towards a quality experience, a real added value in their pathway;
The sending organization creates the link with the local community and guarantees reliable international partnerships between sending and hosting countries;
The sending organization guides the volunteer when he returns to develop his professional and personal project, for a better employability.
– the cancellation of the communication budget available to sending organizations:
Printing and distributing brochures, online promotion, information gatherings in youth information centres, schools and many other activities that won’t be carried out anymore;
– the cancellation of EVS coordination:
Its logic consequence is the cancellation of the support offered by organizations with more experience and capabilities to new ones and to those less independent in handling EVS volunteers and the related paperwork;
– the loss of resources and skills triggered by this sudden change, in part due to the temporary interruption of activities with neighboring countries and partly to the disappearance of many of the most important quality elements of EVS;
– the abandonment of the program by all entities operating in more expensive contexts and that, therefore, will not be able to accommodate volunteers with the new foreseen budgets;
– in particular, we anticipate the progressive disappearance of projects where the volunteer does not produce any economic value gradually replaced by projects where volunteer activity generates directly or indirectly income for the hosting organisations;
– moreover the lower budget will influence also the capacity of the receiving organisation to provide proper mentorship, coaching and training opportunities to the volunteers, which are fundamental pillars of EVS.
European Solidarity Corps does not foresee a support system adapted to the needs of young people, and especially of the most disadvantaged ones.
In conclusion, as it’s been formulated now, the European Commission proposal reduces the educational content and deeply changes the EVS spirit by turning it from an educational project greatly impacting on young people into a mere mobility tool, eliminating pedagogical contribution, support and skills provided by sending and coordinating organisations. It would mean a switch from an action that works very well, both qualitatively and from the point of view of economic efficiency, to a new qualitatively worse mobility program. This means wasting the baggage of skills and know-how acquired by sending and coordinating organizations over the last 20 years, with all their experience and the networks that have been formed and consolidated in the meantime. All these effects together with the exclusion of a large number of organisations (such as sending and coordinating organisations) can potentially have a harmful effect and even result into a reduced number of mobilities, rather than increasing them. Finally, the ESC proposal does not foresee a support system adapted to the needs of young people, and especially of the most disadvantaged ones. The ESC system appears as an elitist programme, rather than an inclusive one.