10 years after EYV2011, did we adopt a rights-based approach to volunteering?
There is a common misperception that volunteering, as an act of will, is easy to do, by anyone, at any time. How often do we stop to think about the legal implications of volunteering, and how these may vary in different parts of Europe, but moreover, vary for different people?
In 2011, the Policy Agenda for Volunteering in Europe (PAVE) came to life following a thorough research into volunteering in Europe and what it implies. PAVE benefitted from views from a diverse group of stakeholders, including civil society organisations, policymakers, private sector and volunteers themselves.
One essential aspect that was looked at was the legal framework in which volunteering can be carried out in different countries. As a result of Work Group 2, recommendations from several perspectives were included in PAVE regarding the Legal Framework for Volunteering across Europe.
10 years later, on the European Year of Volunteering 2011, EYV2011’s anniversary, we need to take another look at these recommendations, as we face worldwide challenges that push us to review how volunteering is legally enabled in different contexts, to fulfil its role of strengthening communities through the solidary action of its citizens.
Going through the recommendations from back when PAVE was drafted, the first one was related to the freedom to volunteer; the idea that it should be allowed that all people, regardless of their background or conditions, volunteer wherever they are – and be protected by the legal framework in doing so.
In the same line of thought, another recommendation was to ensure equal treatment to all volunteers – the suggestion was to create a common framework, led by the EU, to be adopted by all member states for consistency and protection of mobile European citizens. If we look at the efforts carried out since in volunteering support, we see that creating a volunteering intergroup in the EP is still essential to fulfil this recommendation. While advancements have been made in that sense, we are still missing that EU level policymakers-level structure for volunteering, which would allow the creation of such a legal framework to happen.
Even in the absence of such a formal structure, due to the continuous efforts of volunteering supporting organisations, in terms of ensuring equal opportunities to volunteer for all, we have seen programmes such as Youth in Action and Lifelong Learning programmes thrive across Europe. Following this recommendation in PAVE and building on the subsequent developments in volunteering support in Europe, CEV is currently working on creating a Blueprint for European Volunteering 2030, where one of the 5 key themes is inclusion – mainly aiming to determine what would be needed in terms of a structure of support to allow all types of volunteers to engage as volunteers across Europe. As CEV progresses in this work, PAVE serves as a solid foundation on which to build structures that are relevant for the current volunteering needs.
PAVE’s recommendations regarding a legal framework for volunteers also included the social protection of volunteers. It has been agreed that in order for volunteering to have the highest impact, all volunteers should benefit from insurance (health, accident, liability etc.) when delivering their voluntary service. This recommendation encouraged member states to take action towards ensuring social protection of volunteers. And even back in 2011, there were a few countries which led by example in this sense. One such country was Germany, where different categories of volunteers are insured through the statutory health, pension, nursing and unemployment scheme. Poland had a similar policy back then too, where depending on the number of days a volunteer serves, it is either the beneficiary or the state who need to provide health/ liability insurance for the volunteer. And in Belgium, the Flemish Community even established an insurance model with a set of standards any insurance company should follow for volunteer insurance.
Other countries have gone so far as to ensure that no volunteers will lose their statutory unemployment benefits while volunteering - Romania has a specific legislation on unemployment, declaring volunteering is not an express cause for losing state benefits, and the UK also protects the volunteers’ rights to state benefits, provided the only remuneration a volunteer receives is in the shape of reimbursement for volunteering expenses. This would be a good time to see how other countries have done in this sense and even if these countries have maintained and adapted their legislation to the realities of today.
Another important recommendation in PAVE regarded taxation. The general recommendation is that reimbursement for volunteering related expenses should be exempt from taxation; this was the case already in 2011 for countries such as Belgium, Germany, Poland, the UK, in small variations according to local conditions. A similar recommendation was suggested for VAT and tax on donations, which is likewise adopted in various countries across Europe. However, in order to protect the citizens as well as the state, legislation should be thoroughly formulated so as to not allow for organisations to avoid paying taxes by making donations to charities or volunteering involving organisations which only benefit their employees or family members.
A number of other recommendations are of even more relevance today, given the mobility of citizens across and into Europe (migrants of all kinds and refugees) and the challenges of the current pandemic, which for a while qualified as an emergency situation, significantly depending on support from volunteers for recovery efforts. Back in 2011, PAVE work groups looked at how to tackle visa issues for volunteers, criminal record checks and even employee volunteering support during emergencies. Ideas such as a special volunteering visa category, fast-track application process and criminal record checks emerged back in 2011. All these, in the current state of the world, are more than valid and relevant as we need to think of and implement solutions to enable volunteering to happen for everyone, in the benefit of all communities in need.
While regarding all the above we had models of best practice and examples to follow back in 2011, and while these have since evolved into more complex and more inclusive policies and laws, we still have a long way to go. And it seems we need to start from monitoring the legal framework, in practice.
With all the above recommendations deemed necessary for high impact volunteering activities across the EU, what would make it them the more valuable is a constant monitoring on how these legal frameworks are being developed and how they are being applied, as well as checking that no further barriers that might appear are not addressed by new legal frameworks. A clear example is our current refugee situation – it is obvious that we need a more developed legal framework at European level to ensure inclusion of and equal opportunities for all volunteers, regardless of their residency status.
The 2011 goal: A Charter on Volunteering. The 2021 reality: A Blueprint for European Volunteering 2030
Back in 2011, PAVE Legal Framework section concluded with an overarching goal to create A Charter for Volunteering. The vision was for the EU and member states to join forces and create a Charter on the rights of volunteers, formulated and adopted across the EU.The content of the charter, as per PAVE recommendations must include:
Broadly accepted definitions of volunteers and volunteering involving organisations
A set of rights (and how they are to be ensured, by the state or volunteering involving organisations etc.) and responsibilities for volunteers
Rights and responsibilities for volunteering involving organisations
Responsibilities of public authorities
This year, on the 10th anniversary of the European Year of Volunteering 2011, we saw CEV taking the lead on creating such a tool - today, we have a more evolved version of a European tool for volunteering, in the form of the Blueprint for European Volunteering 2030.
Building on the recommendations from PAVE and in addition to all the requirements for a Charter on Volunteering from above, CEV went further and integrated in the Blueprint legal frameworks for new forms of volunteering, particularly due to the growth in online and informal volunteering, which has seen an substantial impact especially for minority and previously excluded groups. As such, as of this year, Europe can benefit from an enhanced version of what would have been the Charter, and that is the Blueprint for European Volunteering 2030.
What are we still missing?
To see a real rights-based approach to volunteering in action, in #EYVplus10 we first need a more structured and consistent approach from the EU to include the ever-changing characteristics of volunteering, especially in terms of diversity of volunteers. Then, we need more countries to translate the policy recommendations into national laws to ensure the rights and responsibilities of volunteers.
But the one thing we can start with today, is a monitoring and evaluation framework for the legal basis of volunteering across Europe, with defined indicators that can be measured periodically to track advancements made in volunteering legal support, as well as the incurred enhanced impact from such settings. Who’s up for the challenge?