By nominating 2011 as the 'European Year of Voluntary Activities', the EU hopes to increase the recognition and popularity of volunteering across Europe, and encourage the exchange of best practice between its member states.
Speaking after EU culture ministers meeting in Brussels this morning had given the Year the green light, UK Creative Industries Minister Siôn Simon said "the benefits of volunteering for individual citizens and society as a whole are indisputable".
"As well as fostering a sense of belonging and community spirit, it can offer new skills and greater confidence," Simon added.
Parliament demands more funding
Meanwhile, the European Parliament yesterday (26 November) called for EU support for volunteering to be increased to €10m to help fund the European Year.
In its initial proposal, the European Commission had earmarked €6m to fund the Year and €2m to prepare for it, with the Council – which has the final say on the matter – having shown willingness to back an €8m total.
Adopting a report by Italian MEP Marco Scurria (EPP) by a majority of 551 votes to 19 amid 10 abstentions at their Strasbourg plenary, parliamentarians demanded more recognition and support for voluntary activities throughout Europe, and "especially within new democracies of the EU".
Noting that voluntary work "has not been formally acknowledged at EU level," the EU assembly called for skills acquired via the EU’s Youthpass and Europass non-formal learning programmes to be recognised as a complement to formal training.
MEPs were also keen to stress that volunteering should not be seen as "a substitute for paid work," "a means of meeting basic needs normally met by social services" or "a substitute for action by public authorities".
Moreover, the Parliament called for efforts to be made to ensure that "asylum seekers, refugees and legally-resident immigrants" can volunteer, "particularly when they are unable to be employed".
The EU should fund the creation of a database of volunteers and voluntary organisations in Europe, and create a Web portal to promote volunteering, MEPs said.