To make a contribution to society while gaining experience to enter the job market: these are the major goals of the European Commission’s proposal with a set of initiatives addressed to young people in the area of vocational training, apprenticeship and volunteering, and to boost occupational placement. Moreover, the most original proposal – yet to be defined and to become operational – is the establishment of a European Solidarity Corps. The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who had announced the initiative during the State of the Union address past September, remarked: “The European Solidarity Corps will create opportunities for young people willing to make a meaningful contribution to society and help show solidarity – something the world and our European Union needs more of.”
First of all: Promoting Employment. The actions of the EU Commission extend across various areas. The “Youth Guarantee” program, set up in 2013 to fight youth unemployment will be strengthened (at least in the intentions of Juncker’s team, prior to the approval of EU Parliament and Council). Since its inception – notwithstanding the gravity of the problem, with millions of unemployed under30 citizens, notably in eastern and southern Europe – there are 1.6 million less young unemployed in the EU also thanks to better economic conditions and to the interventions of the EU and its Member States.
The Commission has equally presented a series of actions ensuring “high-quality education” and apprenticeship by launching ErasmusPro, a dedicated activity under Erasmus+
Giving concrete support. The most innovative proposal is the European Solidarity Corps, due to enhance the existing European Voluntary Service Scheme, notwithstanding its different strands. “Participants in the new European Corps”, the Commission points out, “between 18 and 30”, will have the opportunity to be placed with a project either for volunteering or for a traineeship, an apprenticeship or a job for a period between 2 and 12 months.”
Participants will be able to engage in a broad range of activities
such as education, health, social integration, assistance in the provision of food, shelter construction, reception, support and integration of migrants and refugees, environmental protection or prevention of natural disasters. Juncker had exemplified in his the State of the Union address: “We often show solidarity most readily when faced with emergencies. When the Portuguese hills were burning, Italian planes doused the flames. When floods cut off the power in Romania, Swedish generators turned the lights back on. When thousands of refugees arrived on Greek shores, Slovakian tents provided shelter.”
Opportunities and weak spots. Young people registering online for the Corps (http://europa.eu/solidarity-corps), will need to subscribe to the European Solidarity Corps Mission Statement and its Principles, corresponding to those of the EU: democracy, human rights, believing in the promotion of a just and equitable society, solidarity inside and outside EU borders, pluralism, integration of diversity… Each participating organization – NGOs, local bodies, associations, public and private companies – will equally need to adhere to the Charter prior to official registration. Participating organizations will select the youths that will be invited to take part in the projects – to be carried out in EU Member Countries – in the area of volunteering, or in view of closed-end employment contracts. The Commission hopes that 100thousand young people will participate in the project in the period 2017 – when the first “missions” are expected to become operational – 2020.
Indeed, it is no solution to the problem of unemployment in Europe. Nonetheless, it represents a remarkable thrust to vocational training and job placement for the young generations.
Participants in a volunteering placement, accommodation, food, travel, insurance, and pocket money will, as a general rule, be covered by existing EU funding and not by new and “fresh” allocations from the EU budget. This is a weak spot of the proposal highlighted by several observers, and rightly so.
The funding knot. On October 27 the European Parliament adopted a resolution supporting the establishment of the European Solidarity Corps. Italian MEP Luigi Morgano, who closely followed the work of the Executive, underlined: “The package for Young Europeans presented by the Commission, on the whole, deserves to be valued positively.” It is “a good thing that the Executive has set the goal of coordinating and supporting Member States’ efforts for the creation of a modern, high-quality and inclusive education system. Some of the proposed instruments may strengthen the European educational systems and, consequently, promote a response to youth unemployment. ” However, Morgano identified “a set of critical aspects” pertaining to the European Solidarity Corps: “Envisaging an “occupational” pillar, in addition to the volunteering strand, along with the goal of prevention of and response to crisis situations (supporting disaster stricken regions or helping with the integration of refugees…), differentiates it”, but perhaps not enough “as compared to the existing European Voluntary Service scheme. Funding of this initiative is questionable, as it would be covered by already existing programs.”