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Brussels outlines plan for EU 'Peace Corps'

The European Union has announced a plan to set up a volunteer scheme similar to the US Peace Corps. The project would see young people deployed across the world to take part in humanitarian projects.

EU Commissioner for International Cooperation Kristalina Georgieva announced the initiative at a news conference on Wednesday.

"There is a need to train and deploy volunteers to reinforce existing humanitarian aid organizations," said Georgieva. "The presence of workers gives hope."

The initiative will still have to be approved by individual member states and the European Parliament before it can be launched.

Safety paramount, says EU

Concern about the safety of volunteers has been expressed by aid groups, but Georgieva insisted this would be paramount.

"For the majority of our volunteers, their deployment is not going to be in conflict situations. It is going to be in post-disaster situations or even in areas where we help communities to prepare and reduce the risk (of) disasters," she said.

The project, which would see young Europeans take part in humanitarian work abroad, is partly inspired by a similar scheme set up in 1961 by US President John F. Kennedy and is envisioned in the EU's Lisbon Treaty.

It would see some 10,000 people recruited between 2014 and 2020.

The Greek government has been particularly supportive of the idea, with some 50 percent of young Greeks out of work. The commission is proposing that a budget of 239 million euros ($311 million dollars) be allocated to the scheme.

The EU is a major donor of aid and long-term reconstruction in the world's disaster areas, but has at times been criticised for not being seen doing enough on the ground.

rc /ipj (dpa, Reuters)