Opinion of the Committee of Regions on the Contribution of Volunteering to Economic and Social Cohesion

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Committee of the Regions
73 rd Plenary Session
6-7 February 2008

of the
Committee of the Regions


− emphasis es t he considera ble econo mic contribu tion that voluntary activit y makes to l ocal,
regional, national and the EU econo mies through (a ) the extra h uman resources that it add s to
social and econom ic activ ity and (b) th e creation of social capital and a be tter “qualit y of life”
which can be an influential factor in inve stm ent and job creation.

− em phasises t hat volunteering shoul d not be seen as a substitute or r eplacement f or em ploy ed staff
in an y envir onment;

− encourages the Mem ber St ates to co llect accurate st ati stical infor mation on volunteer involvement
at a local and regional level also, to support t he developm ent of appropriate initiatives at both

− considers that issues regar ding the lack of a lega l status for volu nteering shou ld be given greater
consideration, with particular attention on ri ghts and responsibiliti es and reco mmends that where
relevant, volunteering sho uld be granted a clearly defined and c ompatible l egal status acro ss al l
EU Me mber States with re gard to cross- border travel for volunteering purposes;

− considers that there is an im portant EU dimens ion to volunteering and would t herefore like to see
a more coherent and com prehensiv e policy approach, in particular:

• Better understanding t hrou gh m ore research a nd better qualit y statistics at the EU level
• Recognition of the econo mic contribution of vol unteering and a wider acceptance of its
monetary equ ivalent as match fundi ng in EU funded pr ogrammes
• A broader focus on v olunte ering at EU level be yond th e citizenship and youth aff airs arenas
• An exam inat ion of new initiatives to encour age exchange of experience and m obilit y of
volunteers thr ough a Europ ean Voluntary programme for all ages;

CdR 254/2 007 fin EN/o
– 101 rue Belliard – B-1040 BRUSSELS – Tel. +32 (0)2/2 82 22 11 – Fax +32 (0)2/282 23 25 –
Internet http: //www.cor.eu ropa.eu

– 1 –
Cllr Declan McDonnell (IE/ALDE), Mem ber Galway Cit y Cou ncil and West Regional Auth orit y

Referen ce docu ments


CdR 254/2007 fin EN/o …/…

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General remarks

1. regards volunteering for the purposes of this opinion to have three defining characteri stics
i.e. not being undertaken for financial reward, be ing undertaken of their own fre e will, and to
be of benefit to so meone o ther than the volunteer or their fa mily . These charact eristics cover a
wide spectru m of volunte ering activities fro m the fo rmal to informal, shor t-term to long-term ,
and part-tim e to full-tim e e.g. Voluntar y Service;

2. recognises that volunteering is a key element of active citizenship and dem ocracy at all level s,
in that those engaged in v olunteering a re directly or indirectly wo rking to im prove society for
all at a local, regional and national level;

3. Recognises t hat socially excluded sect ions of society are least l ikely to volunteer and that
supporting these groups to volunteer and feel n eeded as volunteers is an i mportant goal;

4. recognises t he role that volunteering pla ys in developing nati ons globally , and the
considerable role that v olunteering play s thr oug h this in re ducing g loba l povert y an d
prom oting a global dialo gue;

5. recognises th e role that volunteering can play at local, regional, national and global level in
addressing cli mate change issues, and also in de livering civil protection, social inclusion,
developm ent cooperation, be tter integration of disabled persons and immigrants;

Contributing to the Lisbon Agenda – the importance of volunteering

6. em phasises the considerable econom ic contributi on that vol unta ry activit y makes to local,
regional, nati onal and the EU econom ies through (a) the extra hum an resources that it adds to
social and econom ic activity 1 and (b) th e creation of social capital and a better “qualit y of
life” which c an be an infl uential factor in invest ment and job cre ation. Resear ch shows tha t
social capital has a direct p ositive relationshi p to levels of growth in European regions 2. Full y
accepts that S ocial Capital can also be seen as “mutually reinforcing and producing beneficia l
effects on econom ic growth, as well as in ot her cruc ial areas such as social control, inclusi on,
health, gover nance, institutions , dem ocratic em powerment” 3;

1 The lar ge voluntary component of the 08 W elcome Pr ogramme for Liver pool’s y ear as E uropean Capital, for example.
2 Social Capital and Regional E cono mic Gr owth (Beugelsdijk and van Schaik, 2003) .
3 The Well- being of Nations; the Role of Hu man and Social Capital (OE CD 2001) .
CdR 254/2007 fin EN/o …/…

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7. highli ghts the benefits of v olunteering w ith regards to the employ abilit y of a person 4 th rough
participation in a volunteering and volu ntary ser vice sche me. The CoR further considers tha t
the m ost vulnerable gro ups of society (imm igrants, m inorities, unem ployed, h omeless,
substance ab users, school drop-outs) are em pow ered to transform their lives, get actively
involved i n society , through acquired skills and co mpetences, get access to better paid jobs or
find a path back to edu cation. Thro ugh t his op portunit y, peo ple from all backgrou nd s
contribute to gether for the common good , and achie ve social cohesion, di versity and respect;

8. highli ghts the “added value” that volunt eering can bring to social support activities
e.g. befriendi ng pr ojects for people wit h disabilities that cannot necessarily be provided by
paid supp ort;

9. underlines the role of vol unteering in provi ding new and innovative responses to emerging
social issues and acting as a testbed in delivering new services and job opport uni ties;

10. em phasises h owever that volunteering should no t be seen as a substitute or r eplacement for
em ploy ed sta ff in an y envi ronm ent;

11. highli ghts the positive effects of volunteeri ng on the health of a person, and the potential
reduction of costs volu nteering can be to the h ealth ex penditure of local, regional and nati onal
health services. Research has shown that volunt eering can have a particularly positive effect
on the health of ol der people 5. This health benefit can i mpact on all ages from y outh to
retirement, and can pla y a preventative role in relation t o phy sical and m ental illness;

12. notes the critical role that volunteering can play in r elation to life long learnin g, in allowin g
indivi duals to develop new skills that contri bute to their personal, social and cultural
developm ent, and increase and adapt their em ploy abil ity in an ever changing econom ic
environm ent. In particular, it is strongl y suppor tive of student volu nteering activity in schools,
in order to ins til the values that it em bodies;

13. underlines the role of vo lunteering in underp inni ng local developm ent initiatives and in
facilitating the successful i mplementation of a num ber of EU-funded initiatives, such as th e
LEADER Pr ogramme. T his activity acts a s a co unter-balance to the negative effects of
globalisation and in ensuri ng sustai nabl e local economic development;

14. encourages greater collaboration between public auth orities and vo luntar y or gan isations in th e
developm ent of relevant p ublic p olic y, to help ensure that such polic y better meet s the needs
of the volunta ry sector;

4 Time Bank/Reed Executive Sur vey of 200 of the UK’s top businesses ( 200 0)
( https://ti mebank.org.uk/ mediacent re/press_release_details.php? id=76 ).
5 The Health Benefits of Volunteer ing – A Review of Recent Resear ch (Corpor ation for National and Co mmunity Ser vice, 2007) .
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Lack of resea rch and statis tical data on volunteering

15. highlights the need to i mmediately address the lac k of co mplet e and a ccurat e EU wide o r
national statistics on the econo mic contribut ion of volunteering. The Co mmittee of th e
Regions therefore wel comes the Bel gian, Fr ench, Czech Republic, Italian and Slovaki an
co mm itment to im plement the UN Handbook on Non-Profit I nstitutions in the S ystem o f
National Accounts;

16. encourages the Me mber States to collect accurat e statistic al inform ation on volunteer
involvem ent at a local and regional le vel also, to s upport the d evelopment of appro priate
initiatives at both levels;

17. calls on the European Commission to develop more sy stem atic data collection on volunteers
and the services they provi de and supports the inclusion of volunteering as a specific cat egory
in the Statistical Accounts of EUROSTAT to accurately assess the economic value o f

18. reco mmends that co mparat ive rese arch on volun teering be carried out across the EU to obtain
data on its developm ent trends, scope and characteri stics at national , regional and local levels .
This would enable a clea r indication of cultura l similarities and differences in relation t o
volunteer activity and infrastructure;

19. reco mmends that rese arch be carri ed out EU -wide t o identify be st practic e e xperiences in
prom oting and supporting volunteerism on a local and regional basis. Depending on research
findings, areas with m ore historical experien ce of volunteering could support other regions
and localities to develop new initiatives;

Legal status of volunteering

20. considers tha t issues regar ding the lack of a legal status for volunteering shou ld be given
greater consideration, with particular atte ntion on ri ghts and responsibilities and reco mmend s
that where relevant, vol un teering shoul d be gr anted a clearly de fined and co mpatible legal
status acros s all EU Mem ber States with rega rd to cross-border travel for volunteering

21. emphasis es t hat, as a general rule, obstacles to volunteering suc h as lack of insurance, or
rem oval of state entitlements such as social security should not occur, and that appropriate
legal frameworks shoul d b e adopted to e nsure this;

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Supporting v olunteer supp ort infrastructure

22. reco mmends that local and regional authorities s upp ort efforts to develop an in frastructure to
support and f acilitate volunteering, whilst resp ecting the autonomy of t he voluntary sector.
For exa mple , the existe nce of local ly based Volunteer Centres or othe r appropriat e
infrastructure can aid in prom oting v oluntar y wor k, pro ving i nform ation on vol unteerin g
opport unities and “professionalising” volunteer managem ent practices am on gst volunteer
involv ing org anisations;

23. draws attention to the fact that, with a view to recognising volunteering, decentralised
certificates o f co mpetence relating to skills , know ledge and experience acquired through
volunteering already exist 6 and notes the potential for linking these existing syste ms to the
Europass CV scheme, to en courage EU- wide r ecognition of relevant volunteering experiences
with regard to em ploy abili ty;

24. also notes t he potential of an EU Award s sy ste m for voluntary and business se ctor
organisations to highlig ht exam ples o f best practice and excellence in rel ation to the
prom otion an d encourage ment of vol unteering. Thi s could be h eld on an an nual basis to
encourage an EU wide discourse on issu es such as volunteer manag ement and support;

25. highli ghts that with regard to volunteer work with children and vul nerable adults, the lack of a
co-ordinated EU-wide police clear ance process by the Me mber St ates me ans th at migrants ar e
unable to com ply with requirements establis hed by Mem ber States and volunteer involvin g
organisations to protect chil dren and vulnerable adults from potential abuse;

Support for organisations reli ant on vol unteering acti vity

26. welco mes efforts b y som e Directorates-Gener al (DG EAC in p articular) to adopt a m ore
understandin g approach to use voluntary activ ity as a means of match-funding on EU-funded
projects and em phasises that voluntar y activity sh ould be better recognised as equivalent to
co-financing in other EU fundin g pro grammes, on ce this activity can be suitably costed. This
would go so me way tow ards directly recognising t he value for voluntar y organisations in
involv ing vol unteers;

27. recognises t he i mportance of pro moting and s upporti ng Volunteer Managem ent Best
Practices amongst vol unte er involvin g organisati ons. Research sh ows that the im plementation
of such best practice can l ead to increased levels of volunteering within an organisation and
better retention of existing volunteers 7;

6 An exa mple of such sche mes is that introduced by the Ger man feder al state of Hessen https://www.ko mpetenzn achweis.de/ .
7 Volunteer M anagem ent Pr actices an d Retention of Volunteer s (Mark A. Hager , Jeffr ey L . Br udney , Jun e 200 4, The Ur ban
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28. encourages volunteer involving or ganisations to utili se the skills and energies of volunteers in
a strat egic, p olicy -based and planned manner to help boost orga nisational eff iciency and to
create me mor able voluntee ring experiences;

The role of volunteering in social cohesion

29. notes the key role that voluntar y activity can pl ay in an individua l’s personal d evelopment. It
provides a new perspecti ve on society and can also increase a person’s se lf-estee m an d
confidence, enabling them to pla y a fuller role in wider society ; points out t hat the efforts of
voluntar y wo rkers are also of considerable im portance for econom ic, cultural and social
developm ent at local and regional level;

30. recognises the i mportance that volunteering can pla y in the integrati on of new and historicall y
excluded communities at a local, regio nal and national level. Volunteering enables individuals
and groups to meet other people from othe r wal ks of life in a positive and m utually
supportin g en vironm ent;

31. cautions against the European Union over c oncentrating its supp ort for volu nteering activit y
on youth an d young peo ple and und erlines that volunteering is an activit y in which all
sections of society can pla y a full and re warding role;

32. therefore, enc ourages the EU, given the aging EU po pulation, to s pecifically en courage older
people to engage in volunteering, given the (a) life learned skills and experiences of older
people and (b) the proven health be nefits of volunteering. An excellent exam ple of this is the
Active Retirement Asso ciations in Ireland;

33. recognises th at volunteering has a vital role to play in breaking down social isolation am on g
indivi duals and gr oups thr ough (a) the provision of social support s to v ulnerabl e children an d
adults and (b) the fact that the volunteer hi m/herself can develo p ne w netwo rks and reduce
their own isol ation;

34. notes the role that vo luntee ring and specific projects can pla y in pr om oting and encouraging
intergenerational dialogue and understan ding i n to da y’s rapidl y changing society 8;

35. calls for the establish ment of a funding initiative within the Town Twinning pr ogramme to
allow for vol unteer exchange projects to enhan ce local and regional EU networks and active

8 For exam ple the Living Scenes pr oject in Galway sees 24 T ransition Year Students fr om the Presentatio n Secondar y Scho ol
teaming up with 22 adults fro m the Galwa y Active Retire ment A ssociations in a cr oss- gener ational pr ogr amme that is now
integrated into the school’s Transition Year curri culu m.
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Involving p ublic and privat e employers

36. emphasis es t hat volunteering is a ke y ele men t in the prom otion a healthy work-life balance
for e mploy ees across the EU , in encou raging activit ies and networking outsid e the workin g
environm ent;

37. reco mmends the prom otion of volunteering by public service agencies at t he local and
regional levels, throu gh t he encouragement of local vol unteerin g b y their st aff, or b y th e
developm ent of vol unteering initiati ves and partnerships 9;

38. supports the developm ent of sustainab le linkages b etween busin esses and lo cal voluntary
organisations to prom ote Corporate Social Responsibilit y that is hum an resou rce based in
addition t o generating financia l support from businesses. This co uld be done i n conjuncti on
with locally -established SMEs as w ell as w ith regional and local business representativ e
organisations in getting m anagem ent to pr om ote volunteer activity within workforces;

Developing an EU dimension

39. considers that there is an i mportant EU dimension to volunteering and would th erefore like to
see a more co herent and com prehensiv e polic y approach, in particular:

• Better understanding through m ore research and better quality statistics at the EU
• Recognition of the economic contribution of volunt eering and a wider acceptance of
its monetary equivalent as match fundin g in EU fun ded programmes
• A broader focus on volu nteering at EU leve l bey ond the citizenship and youth affairs
• An exam inati on of new initiatives to en courage exch ange of experience and mobilit y
of vol unteers throug h a Eur opean Volunt ary pr ogramme for all ages;

40. reco mmends that the Commission launch practical programmes or actions pavin g the way fo r
transnational European pr ojects that inv olve th e entir e populatio n of the Unio n, and n ot o nly
youn g peop le;

41. reco mmends that 2012 be declared Europ ean Year of Active Citizenship throu gh
Volunteering, to provide a focus for the prom otion of volunteering and the im plementation of
initiatives to address issues as raised in this Opinion;

9 Many local and re gional authorities in so me Me mber States ha ve developed or suppor t volun teering progra mmes with their st aff,
often throu gh vol untary contributi ons fro m staff sala ries to help trans fer sk ills to chari table organisation s, support y oung
indigeno us entr epr eneur s and local develop ment a ctivit ies.
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42. recognises that due to the horizontal na ture of vol unteering in the fram ework of EU policies
and its i mportance in rela tion to EU activities in various sector s, that there is a need for
greater co-ordination of e xisting polici es and ac tivities to succ ess fully engage with the issu es
raised in this Opinion;

43. encourages the European Parlia ment to be more proactive in dealing with t he horizontal
nature of vol unteering. Fu rtherm ore, a single entry point withi n the European Co mm ission
may help to develop the potential that volunt eering has in vario us policy areas, bey ond the
citizenship and youth affairs arena;

44. pledges its su pport to furt hering the recommenda tions set out in this Opinion i n partnership
with the European Parliament and th e European Commission, whe re relevant.

Brussels, 7 February 2008.

The President
of the Comm ittee of the Regions

Luc Van den Brande

The Secretary -General
of the Comm ittee of the Regions

Gerhard Stahl

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Title The contribut ion of v olunteering to econom ic and social
Reference(s) –
Legal basis Article 265(4) TEC
Procedural basis –
Date of European Parliament letter 10 Jul y 200 7
President’ s decision 29 October 2 007
Commi ssion responsible Co mm ission for Econom ic and Social P olicy
Rapporteur Cllr Declan McDonnell (IE/ALDE), Mem ber Galway Cit y
Council and West Regional Authorit y
Analysis 23 October 2 007
Discus sed in commi ssion 16 Novem ber 200 7
Date adopted by commission 16 Novem ber 200 7
Result of the vote in commission Adopted b y majority
Date adopted in plenary 7 Februar y 2008
Previous Committ ee opi nions Opinion on Co mm ission Co mm unication on Promoting
the voluntary organisatio ns and fou ndations in E urope
(COM(97)24 1 final – CdR 306/9 7 fin 10)

Opinion on the Co mmission Co mm unication on the
European voluntary servi ce for young people – action
programme (COM(96) 61 0 final) – Cd R 86/97 fi n

____ ___ ___ ___

10 JO C 180 du 11. 6.1998, p. 57.
CdR 254/2 007 fin EN/o