Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am convinced, none of the big challenges we face today will be properly addressed or solved without an appropriate cooperation with the organized civil society in the European countries. Civil society/volunteering is of high social meaning. It generates benefits and productivity neither the state nor economy can provide; it offers a strong power for social integration and it produces social capital, the fundamental value and asset of civil society. But also for the Member States and for the European Union itself we still face a lot of problems at the same time.
Let me name just a few: volunteering is very unequally distributed in the EU, there is a lack of a legal framework and there are strange legal constraints. In Denmark, for example, regulations limit volunteers on benefits to just 4 hours a week. (…) In the Netherlands volunteering by the unemployed is only permitted outside working hours; in Belgium, people on benefits under the age of 55 are not allowed to volunteer more than 28 hours a week; and in Sweden, people can lose their benefits if their voluntary activity is considered equal in effort to paid employment.
Volunteering is of high social meaning
Therefore I believe we stay at the brink of a readjustment of the roles and duties of the state, economy and civil society. We have to work together on a new balance of social responsibility of these three sectors of society; what we need is a new social contract. And that is why the EYV 2011 is so important: It supports the self-consciousness of the national civil societies. It also bridges the gap between volunteering and political participation through active citizenship and the understanding of a participatory democracy (induced by Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty). But I am not at all sure if active citizenship is really wanted. So we should use the momentum of this year to promote a new social contract and to convince the governments all over Europe of the incomparable and outstanding value of volunteering and civic participation. If we fail to do so we may end up in a situation well described in an American aphorism: “If you are not at the table, chances are you’re on the menu.” – Let’s keep this from happening.