The European Commission has launched a pilot programme, the 'European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps' (EVHAC), which will see just under 100 young people serve in various projects to help vulnerable and disaster-struck parts of the world. The experiences will help determine a formal EU proposal next year to create a permanent humanitarian volunteer programme.
The measure was announced by EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva at an event last week in Budapest (17 June).
The pilot projects, which come at a cost of €1,250,000 to the EU, will be implemented by three NGOs with long-standing experience in international aid: Red Cross France and the British branches of Save the Children and Voluntary Service Overseas.
Speaking to EURACTIV, Commissioner Georgieva highlighted similarities with the United States of America's famous Peace Corps, originally established by President John F. Kennedy, saying "both are programmes that provide motivated young people with the opportunity to engage and make a difference in places where their skills and motivation are needed".
However, she stressed that "the two are also different – the Peace Corps is long-established and has a very broad range of objectives – from teaching English, through humanitarian work to engineering. The European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps is just starting, and will be targeted at humanitarian assistance programmes".
The European Union is eager to heighten its profile as the world's biggest humanitarian aid donor (see 'Background') and sees the programme as a way to "give a human face to EU action in humanitarian aid operations and increase our visibility in the world".
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton faced criticism last year for not visiting Haiti following the devastating earthquake there that killed between 40,000 and 300,000 people. During that crisis, while the EU provided over €330 million in aid, its efforts were largely overshadowed by images of American and other rescuers.
The pilot projects, which are rather modest in scale, will try to provide experience and data that will shape the final version of the EVHAC. The Commission says it will propose such tools in early 2012.
A recently-published EU memo details the three approved projects, which aim to provide the Commission with diverse learning experiences: Red Cross France will train and deploy for six months 21 "qualified but inexperienced" young people, while Volunteer Overseas UK will take on 40 "expert volunteers". The latter, according to the memo, aims to "develop best practice standards" for the selection, management and training curricula of the volunteers.
Some possibilities for the European Volunteer Corps's future direction were defined in the Commission's official communication on the subject published last November.
These include everything from creating an "EU certification mechanism" to help NGOs identify and recruit qualified volunteers to "a fully-fledged volunteer scheme including training, matching and deployment of volunteers".
The communication stresses, however, that the latter "would need careful consideration […] though its operational implementation would not present insurmountable obstacles".
As is common practice, the Commission is officially consulting NGOs and other stakeholders throughout the policymaking process. However, in line with the spirit of the times, Georgieva also announced in a blog post that she would be on Facebook tomorrow (22 June) to discuss the fledgling Volunteer Corps, which she called "one of our most exciting projects at the Commission".