European Commission introduces new ′Solidarity Corps′ | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 07.12.2016
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European Commission introduces new 'Solidarity Corps'

The EU wants to help unemployed young adults into voluntary service. On Wednesday it launched the 'European Solidarity Corps.' Critics say it is a half-baked redundancy. Bernd Riegert reports from Brussels.

"I lived in Malaga for 10 months, for free. That's super," laughs Vincent Somers of Belgium. Of course he worked, too, he adds. The 28-year-old film student mentored youths at a Spanish school as part of the "European Voluntary Service" (EVS). "It was a great experience, one that I highly recommend," swoons Somer at an event in Brussels to launch another exchange program sponsored by the European Commission. Next to the EVS, which has been in place for 20 years, a new "European Solidarity Corps" began on Wednesday. The new program is also directed at young Europeans between the ages of 18 and 30.

Anyone who is looking for a traineeship, or has been unable to find a job after completing their studies, can now register with the EU and is supposed to be able to find a position. The EU Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, Kristalina Georgieva, is excited about the idea of sending young Europeans to countries throughout the Union so that they can do something for their education. The European Commission sees the Solidarity Corps as a way to lower youth unemployment, especially in southern Europe.

Europäischer Freiwilligendienst -Vincent Somers (DW/B. Riegert)

Vincent Somers says he had a great experience in Malaga

Volunteers spoilt for choice

When he took office two-and-a-half years ago, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged that European youths should be able to find a job within four months of having completed training or studies. The Commission wants to help 100,000 young adults find work for between two and 12 months through the Solidarity Corps by the year 2020. Lodging, food and pocket money will be paid. "We have allotted budget money for it," says Georgieva. "It wasn't easy at first, but it is impressive that everyone wants to help now."

Europäischer Freiwilligendienst Berlaymont-Gebäudes (DW/B. Riegert)

A giant banner for the Solidarity Corp hangs at the EU Commission's Berlaymont headquarters

European parliamentarian Petra Kammerevert, of the center-left Social Democrats, is less enthusiastic. She thinks the new Solidarity Corps is simply a way for Commission President Juncker to show that he is doing something, and that the Corps is not that different from the EVS. "It will only hamper both programs if they have to compete with one another," says Kammerevert. She believes the Corps is a "half-baked" initiative that will siphon money away from existing programs. Beyond European programs, national programs exist as well, such as the "Voluntary Social Year" (FSJ) and the "National Volunteer Service" (BFD) in Germany.

Starting today, young EU citizens and other youths from around the world can sign up for volunteer positions at the European Solidarity Corps website. Applicants will be asked about language skills, education and special abilities. Georgieva says that there are no special requirements. Untrained school drop-outs are also free to apply. Suitable offers are sought out much like they are at online dating sites.

Aid organizations hoping for more personnel

Deployments are possible in all 28 EU member states, as well as Norway, Lichtenstein, Iceland, Turkey and Macedonia. There is no guarantee that a position will be offered. The service is free. The first deployments are to begin next spring, when enough aid organizations and providers have registered job opportunities.

Europäischer Freiwilligendienst Haydn Hammersley (DW/B. Riegert)

Hadyn Hammsersly says volunteers are desperately needed throughout Europe

One organization that wants to make use of the new Solidarity Corps is "Autism Europe." It helps tend to the care and rights of people with autism. Haydn Hammersley from Autism Europe told DW that he is hoping for lots of volunteers, which he says are desperately needed throughout Europe. Further, he says his organization is interested in finding Volunteer Corps jobs for suitable autistic persons. Autism Europe's association work in Brussels is financed in large part by the European Commission. In that way, the Commission would essentially be appointing its own volunteers through the Corps, and paying them out of another fund. Thus it would be a closed system. "But we don't want to create new bureaucracy," assured Georgieva.