Documents considered by the Committee on 12 January 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

12 A European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps



COM(10) 683

Commission Communication: On How to Express EU Citizen's Solidarity through Volunteering: First Reflections on a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps

Legal base
Document originated23 November 2010
Deposited in Parliament29 November 2010
DepartmentInternational Development
Basis of considerationEM of 21 December 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilTo be determined
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


12.1 In the introduction to this Communication, the Commission notes that Article 214 TFEU "enshrines for the first time humanitarian aid as a separate policy of the EU", referring specifically to the "European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps" (EVHAC), whose objective is "to establish a framework for joint contributions from young Europeans to the humanitarian aid operations of the Union" (Article 214(5) TFEU).

12.2 The Commission says that implementation of this provision "provides an opportunity for Europeans to show solidarity with people in need [and] builds on a clear EU trend". It says that "volunteering is on the rise" and that the last 20 years have shown a significant upward trend in the number of active volunteers, which now stands at close to 100 million adults in the EU. The Commission sees volunteering as an important value which has the potential to bring Europe closer to citizens, with the volunteering landscape having become more diverse in recent years, and opines that different schemes, actors and approaches involved in volunteering in humanitarian contexts make coordination and coherence of paramount importance. Having been tasked to table a legislative proposal for the establishment of the EVHAC, the Commission says that it will use this opportunity "to include suggestions responding to the new challenges and emerging needs related to issues such as the identification and recruitment of volunteers, their training and their deployment." This, the Commission says, can only be done on the basis of an in-depth consultation of stakeholders and a coherent analysis of opportunities and costs, which will pave the way for a future legislative proposal. Before reaching that stage, the present Communication aims to present the current situation of volunteering in the relevant sectors of activity, with particular attention being paid to the guiding principles, existing gaps, needs, and necessary conditions for the EVHAC to make a positive contribution to the overall response to humanitarian disasters, and also highlights the most immediate issues to be considered in setting-up the EVHAC and the way forward.

The Commission Communication

12.3 Against this background, DG ECHO (the part of the European Commission which deals with humanitarian and civil protection issues) has been developing this commitment through consultation and discussion in Council working groups, with the aim of tabling legislative proposals to Council and to the European Parliament in 2012.

12.4 This Communication sets out the findings of the Commission's work so far, guiding principles, gaps in the current system and key conditions under which EVHAC must operate. It envisages three possible options:

—  creating an "EU certification mechanism" for organisations that respect centrally set EU standards in a number of areas including selection and training of volunteers, volunteer management, back-office functions and/or prevention and preparedness activities;

—  combining this option with work on recruitment and the development of rosters for "surge capacities" for the benefit of humanitarian disaster relief organisations which would especially target experienced staff to be deployed in key functions;

—  establishing a fully-fledged volunteer scheme, which would include selection, training, matching and deployment of volunteers.

12.5 The Commission emphasises the need for any scheme to be demand-driven and to deploy volunteers who have skills and can add value in humanitarian situations, and to avoid a situation similar to that in Haiti in 2010, when it says a large number of unskilled volunteers arrived and were ineffective, and in some cases disruptive.

The Government's view

12.6 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 21 December 2010, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Stephen O'Brien) says that the UK has some reservations about the EVHAC proposal, mainly regarding the danger of deploying young, inexperienced volunteers to potentially insecure and volatile situations, and has suggested a number of alternatives, including the use of volunteers in back-office functions, allowing more experienced staff to be released to the front line, and deploying volunteers under the umbrella of existing humanitarian organisations. However, he further says, the Commission has taken on board these concerns, which are mirrored by a number of other Member States, and is now emphasising the importance of professionalism, humanitarian principles and safety and security in all of their proposals, and that he is satisfied with the way the Commission is approaching this issue. He notes that "frequent consultation and discussion opportunities have allowed us to engage fully with the development of specific proposals and share our views."

12.7 The Minister notes that, going forward, the Commission will continue to consult with Member States and relevant NGOs in 2011, run a limited number of pilots and draw up a preparatory action plan; and that in 2012, it plans to table a legislative proposal, preceded by an impact assessment.

12.8 The Minister expects this year's proposed pilots to provide more information about how the EVHAC scheme will actually work, though it is, he says, already clear that the scheme primarily aims to encourage the use of more volunteers in humanitarian and disaster relief operations.

12.9 The Minister goes on to draw attention to his own Department's strong interest in the plans for developing EVHAC, highlighting the strategic support DFID provides to British volunteering organisations and the specific support to VSO, Skillshare, International Service and Progressio through the Partnership Programme Arrangements (PPA). He notes that this is worth just over £38m for 2010-11, of which £28.5m goes to VSO, and that in future DFID will continue to support VSO (£30m in 2011-12 from outside the PPA), as well as Progressio (£2m in 2011-12) and Restless Development (£2.7m in 2011-12) through PPAs. Depending on the quality of their proposals, the Minister also notes, other volunteer organisations such as Skillshare and International Service may also be supported through the Global Poverty Action Fund.

12.10 The Minister also draws attention to the announcement by the Prime Minister in October 2010 of the creation of the International Citizens Service, "to give thousands of young adults across the UK the opportunity to join the fight against poverty through volunteering in developing countries." DFID is, he says, working with specialist volunteering agencies (including VSO) to pilot the scheme in the first year, offering places for 1,000 young people, with first year costs of up to £10 million.

12.11 Looking ahead, the Minister says that, although no other government Departments have been consulted on this proposal at this time, as more substantive proposals are developed by the Commission on the specifics of how EVHAC will work, DFID will consult with relevant government Departments and civil society organisations who may be interested.


12.12 Although the Communication raises no questions, we are reporting it to the House because of the importance of its subject matter, and look forward to hearing further from the Minister as and when the Commission produces either a more detailed Communication or the draft legislative proposals.

12.13 In the meantime, we are also drawing this chapter of our Report to the attention of the International Development Committee.

12.14 We now clear the Communication.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 27 January 2011