EESC Public Hearing on « European Solidarity Corps and Youth Initiative »

One of the most talked about Youth-related projet in Brussels  these days is without any doubt the European Solidarity Corps (ESC). In its actual form, the project raises a lot of hopes, but also generates some important concerns.

The European Solidarity Corps is a new initiative which allow young people (18-30) to volunteer or work in projects that benefit the communities and people. The project, which was announced almost two years ago by the President of the Commission and adopted the 30th of May is now on the table of the CULT committee at the European parliament.

The European Economic and Social Committee organised a public hearing on the ESC on July 18th. The debate was well attended at the room was filled with representants of the public society, including a lot of Youth-led organisations.

The debate started with a presentation by different stakeholders of their opinion on the ESC. Although eveyone agreed that this initiative was welcomed, they all voiced their concerns on some aspects of the project.

Ms. Bente Schneider-Pott, assistant of MEP Helga Trüpel, who is also the rapporteur of the CULT Committee on the ESC, was the first participant to take the stage after the introduction remarks made by Mr. Adam Rogalewski, President of the study group SOC/566 on Youth Initiative/ Consolidation of the European Solidarity Corps, and Mr. Robert France, Head of Sector, Erasmus+ : Youth, European Commission. Ms. Schneider-Pott, expressed the first reactions of the CULT Committee on the ESC, while emphasizing on the important themes like Inclusiveness, the difference between Volonteering and occupational work, accreditation of participating organisations. She concluded by stating that there would be a joint hearing EMPL & CULT on the 10th of October.

Andrea Casamenti, from the European Youth Forum, followed by presenting the opinion of its organisation and its members. While also supporting the project, Mr. Casamenti was quite more critical on many issues. The first disatisfaction was that the management committee did not include the participation of youth organisations. He also suggested that there could be ratings made by the participants and that there should be a review of the definition of volunteering, which is too strict in its actual form. Mr. Casamenti also had a similar comment regarding the definition of solidarity, which this time is too vague. Other points were put forward, but one last element was really important : The absence of support organizations before, during and after the volunteering expérience.

Tom Vrijens, President of the Youth Committee, European Trade Union Confederation, was quite clear since the beginning of his intervention, that he was supportive of the volunterring part of the project, but he thought that the occupational section of the project should be completely removed, because it could lead to a risk of quality jobs substitution. Mr Vrijens also thought that the definition should have been changed and that the fact that it was funded with already existing money could have the consequence of putting at risk some Erasmus+ programs.

The debate was concluded with questions taken from the audience and different issues were brought up by the stakeholders, like how will the information will be communicated if the support organisations are not involved. A question the representative of the commission, Mr. France, answered by confirming that these organisations will be taken into account. He also concluded with some wisdom saying that there could only be one thing worst than not having volunteers, it would be having bad volunteers, and that’s why the support organisations we so important.

The second part of the hearing was on Youth Initiative and it was moderated by Antonello Pezzini, co-rapporteur of the Study Group SOC/566 on Youth initiative / Consolidation of the ESC. Thomas Pritzkow, policy officer, Schools and Multilingualism, European Commission, was the first speaker to take the lead as he presentedn the different challenges in European schools. He pointed the importance of schools keeping up with digital development and making out the best of diversity.

He was followed by Ms Sarah Lynch, Head of Sector, Higher education policy, which exposed the Higher education priorities for the European commission. Among them, ther was the importance to help students get the right knowledge and skills. Ms Lynch also noted that there should also be a pilot european graduate survey and that a network of experts should be put into place to encourage cooperation and mutual learning.

The debate followed on Life-long learning, with Ms. Eszter Salamon, steering Committee member of Life-Long Learning Platform, which made a strong pledge on how important it was and how to define what quality education is and how it should be measured. Ms. Salaon was followed by Matteo Borsani, Senior Adviser, Delegation of Confindustria to the EU, brought the industry perspective into the debat. He recalled a study which stated that 8 out of 10 jobs that existed 10 years ago didn’t exist today. He stressed the importance of life-long learning programs for teachers and to implement Digital education at all school levels.

Ekaterina Efimenko, Programme officer, Education International, European Region, European Trade Union Committee for Education, presented a series of comments and recommandations on the initiative. Ms Efimenko emphasized that it was important invest in the attractiveness of the teaching profession and in early childhood education and care. She added that that the renewed EU agenda for higher education was short-termed and had too much of a business-centered approach to research. Ms. Efimenko insisted that good institutional leadership needs effective social dialogue and that there should be systematic investment in pedagogical training and continuous professional development for teachers.

The event ended with one very brief question before the moderator closed the day and invited everyone to keep the discussion going!