Speech by Professor Jerzy Buzek President of the European Parliament "European Year for Volunteering"
It is a great honour for me to be among you today. As European citizens we all have rights, and certain privileges. But we also have obligations. These obligations are to our fellow citizens and to the community we live in. I am convinced we need to encourage volunteering because it is a sign of solidarity. Something which is very important in this economic climate.
As volunteers you show solidarity to citizens who are those who most need it. But you also contribute to shaping European society. By working for the community we live in, you show that Europe is based not only on a single market. You are proving every day that she is based mostly and fistly on a community of shared values.
I was reminded of a quote today that "Volunteers don't get paid, not because they're worthless, but because they're priceless".
I think it is very important that this year was designated the "European year for Volunteering". It is a sector which requires more and not less Europe. By focusing on this area I hope we may find European solutions to help support volunteering in the EU.
I would like to raise three issues today.
My first point is that we need to encourage greater participation in volunteering - especially among our young, but not only - so that it becomes a normal part of our society. It should be the rule and not the exception.
But to encourage greater participation, we need to create incentives, such as tax exemptions for volunteers' allowances. Better training opportunities for volunteers. And create better synergies between volunteer organisations and the public and private sectors.
This should be seen as what it is, both an educational experience and a period of non-formal learning. It should also be seen as work experience. The EU institutions can play a role in this by helping to create a common legal framework for the sector.
This leads me to my second point - we need to raise the value of the importance of volunteering. I am struck that in some countries volunteering does not receive the recognition it deserves.
The social role played by churches, charities and NGOs is often essential, and complements the role of the state. A period of volunteering should be taken into consideration by Universities who chose students or employers when they hire workers. If somebody is unemployed but works as a volunteer, this should be seen as part of the person's career.
This is why we need to tackle the issue of a lack of recognition of skills and competences acquired through volunteering. This is also an area where a Europe wide recognition may be the solution by creating common standards of what working as a volunteer means.
My third point is that I think we need to strengthen the European Commissions excellent European Volunteer Service (EVS). We have seen that in education, programmes such as Erasmus have been a great success in encouraging mobility - 200 000 students benefited from this programme last year.
I am convinced that we should raise the numbers in the EVS programme from the 50 000 people who have benefited since 1996. I also believe we should think about expanding the programme to people above the age of thirty. Volunteering is also about life long learning and should be encouraged.
A doctor, architect, engineer who wishes to volunteer in another member state should be helped to do so, and we in the EU should find ways to make this happen. I think the EVS programme can be the right tool.
But there is also an international dimension for volunteers we should explore. The European Union is the largest donor organisation in the world. I am convinced that having people working as volunteers on some of our projects would be a good experience for both the volunteer and for the project itself.
To give one example, the revolutions we have witnessed in North Africa over the past weeks have shown that there is a need for both economic and political transition in those countries. The European Union can and will offer assistance, but aid is not only money. There is a role for experts in various fields who can contribute.
We need to find the way of connecting the experts, with the project and I am convinced there is a role for the volunteer sector in this.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
President John F. Kennedy before he created the "Peace Corps" famously said - "do not ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". That is the motto of all volunteers, anywhere in the world, and our role as the European Union is to encourage volunteers to do what they can for their country and for the EU.
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