||European Parliament elections 1999
Important points 1994-1999
Education, youth and EU citizenship
An alternative school in Denmark for teenagers from problem backgrounds, an arts and crafts workshop in Finland, a rehabilitation centre for former drug addicts in Italy and an organic farm in Austria: these are some of the places where young people from Belgium, France, Germany and Austria have worked under the European Voluntary Service (EVS) programme. By the end of 1998 more than 2000 youngsters had taken part in a pilot scheme, which will be superseded in the year 2000 by the full EVS programme. Parliament has played a pioneering role in setting up this programme, just as it did for other youth and education projects.
Parliament launches idea of European voluntary service
Parliament first called for a scheme to enable young people to gain experience in other EU or non-EU countries in 1995. It wanted the scheme to operate outside the existing education and training programmes such as Socrates. While the EVS is not strictly speaking a training programme - the work done by the volunteers is meant to be "of general interest" - it undoubtedly provides those who take part with that "something extra" which may help them on the jobs market. It may also spark in them a desire to resume or embark upon a course of study or to live in the host country, as has happened with a large number of those who have taken part so far.
Parliament was not only instrumental in setting up the EVS - as it was in the case of programmes such as Socrates (higher education), Youth for Europe (youth exchanges) and Leonardo (vocational training) - it also had to fight to ensure that all these programmes had some substance. Apart from problems specific to each one, e.g. the need to check the standard of proposed projects or make sure that young people doing EVS had suitable language skills, Parliament was keen to establish a number of principles applicable to all the youth, education and training programmes.
Nothing gets done without money!
The first question was how much money to provide. Parliament always wanted to obtain the maximum possible funding, not for prestige reasons but because proper funding was needed to underpin certain basic aims of the programmes. The first aim was to show that Europe was not abstract or remote but could give people new, practical opportunities in their lives. The second was to help young people get to grips with life as Europeans by having direct experience of other languages, cultures and lifestyles. This, it was felt, was the best antidote to prejudice. The third aim was probably the most important. Parliament strongly felt that these programmes must not just be attractive but empty showcases. Adequate funding was therefore a must. This was also the best way of ensuring that the programmes did not become the preserve of an elite able to afford the expense of staying in another country.
Widening access to the programmes
Funding was always going to be crucial for ensuring wide access to the programmes. However, Parliament also stressed the need to focus particularly on disadvantaged people and groups with special difficulties. In the case of Youth for Europe, Parliament argued for schemes to help children of immigrants get to know their culture of origin - without prejudice to efforts to help them integrate into their host society. With Leonardo, it put the emphasis on access for everyone, especially people in insecure jobs. With Socrates, it highlighted the importance of multicultural schooling and the schooling of children of migrant workers, itinerant workers and gypsies. It also put forward a target figure for Socrates: 10% of all EU students should follow a university course in more than one Member State.
The reason Parliament has fought so hard for these programmes is that they are the best practical efforts devised so far to create a sense of European citizenship.
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