The combination of offering Europe's young people a chance to learn the importance of solidarity during valuable work experience placements and providing local authorities with much needed support on the ground makes the European Solidarity Corps a win-win for Europe, according to Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of the Regions, who opened the European Solidarity Corps Stakeholder Forum on Wednesday 12 April.
The European Solidarity Corps is a new European Union initiative for young people aged 18-30, which creates opportunities to volunteer or work in projects that benefit communities and people around Europe for a period of two to twelve months. It was announced by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, during his annual State of the European Union speech in September 2016, and officially launched in December 2016. After completing a registration process online, participants could be invited to join a wide range of projects, such as helping to prevent natural disasters or rebuild afterwards, assisting in centres for asylum seekers, or addressing different social issues in communities. More than 27,000 young people have signed up to date.
Speaking alongside Commissioners Günther Oettinger and Tibor Navracsics at the opening of the stakeholder forum, President Markkula said: "Europe's youth matter; not only for the future, but also for today. That's why we fully support the European Solidarity Corps initiative and welcome the fact that tens of thousands of young people have registered since its launch last year. Now, we need to effectively match participants with the 100,000 volunteering and job placement opportunities across Europe's regions and cities, while ensuring that the right EU funding and support is in place. As the EU's assembly of cities and regions, through our 350 members, the CoR plays an active role in encouraging and integrating youth-driven initiatives. We put our knowledge at your disposal." President Markkula also pointed out that it is crucial that the skills young people are gaining match the needs of the labour market.
Pawel Grzybowski (PL/ECR), Mayor of Rypin and rapporteur of the CoR opinion on "Investing in Europe's youth and in the European Solidarity Corps", which will be adopted in the plenary session on 11–12 May, also took part in the Stakeholder Forum. "This initiative represents a community led solution to youth unemployment, enabling our youth to become active and contributing members of society through helping those in need. We must support our youth in their efforts to achieve a better future for Europe", Mr Grzybowski said. "The European Solidarity Corps needs to have a strong territorial angle, explicitly recognising the role of local and regional authorities. As local and regional government, we are the main provider of public services on the ground. Therefore, when through the Solidarity Corps, our youth would help the homeless or assist in environmental issues or disaster response, they would be working in an falling under our competence. This dimension needs to be taken into account."
The participation of civil society organisations is also crucial for the success of the initiative. Luis Alvarado Martínez, President of the European Youth Forum, said: "The European Solidarity Corps represents a great opportunity for the EU to re-launch its project, particularly among young people, letting them experience the values that tie us all together in this great construction. However, this initiative must not undermine the thousands of youth organizations who have been providing volunteering experiences to change Europe since decades. We must honour the great work being done in the field, where the Erasmus+ program is an instrumental support. This is why the Solidarity Corps need new fresh money."