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Last Friday the European Commission held the EU Aid Volunteers Infoday in order to inform civil society about different aspects of the programme. The event, organised by DG ECHO (Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection) and the EACEA (Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency), focused on informing potential sending and hosting organisations on certification and capacity building.

The EU Aid Volunteers initiative provides opportunities for volunteers to engage in humanitarian assistance overseas. It is open to new volunteers and experienced humanitarian experts. Under the programme, EU organisations can submit proposals for partnership projects to send volunteers to developing countries.

The European Commission is hoping to sponsor 4000 volunteers until 2020 in a variety of projects. The initiative also aims at providing training to over 4400 personnel in non-EU disaster affected countries. Over 10000 online volunteering opportunities will be made available over the next 5 years. The programme has a total budget of €147.9 million for the 2015-2020 period.

The first calls for proposals for deployment of volunteers will open in June and the first vacancies for volunteers will be published in December. In December there will also be a launch event and the launch of an online platform.

Over the past years, during which time a pilot programme was run, DG ECHO has been busy setting European standards to which sending and hosting organisations will have to comply. The standards refer to volunteer management, safety and security, risk assessment, duty of care, needs assessment, and equal opportunities, among others. According to DG ECHO, the idea is to run a highly professionalised programme.

At the event, Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, stressed the importance of stepping up European efforts during times of unprecedented humanitarian crises and promised to give strong political support to the initiative.

The rationale behind EU Aid Volunteers is that organisations need more well-prepared individuals to carry out projects in overseas communities struck by disaster. The Commission has acknowledged that there are few EU-sponsored opportunities for European volunteers to engage in humanitarian aid in third countries. The initiative is an attempt to address that.

EU Aid Volunteers will be under DG ECHO control and supervision but the implementation of the programme will be carried out by EACEA. The Agency will manage the certification process, calls for proposals – both for technical assistance and deployment of volunteers – and the centralised training of all the volunteers.

In addition to the development of European standards, EU Aid Volunteers will participate in centrally organised training programmes and be assessed as to their readiness for deployment. Although sending and hosting organisations will have to provide context-specific induction of volunteers, core training will be the responsibility of the EACEA. Training modules will include introduction to humanitarian action, managing personal safety, inter-cultural awareness, EU humanitarian aid policy and others.

European and third-country organisations can establish partnerships to participate in calls for proposals for deployment of volunteers.

Any organisation wishing to participate in calls for proposals as sending or hosting organisations will have to be certified first (see rules and process here). Project partners which are not designated as sending or hosting organisations do not necessarily need to undergo certification. For those who are, evidence of experience in the humanitarian field is mandatory. Only European organisations qualify to be sending organisations. Hosting organisations will include third-country organisations and third-country offices of European organisations, as well as international organisations and agencies.

At the moment the Agency is receiving calls for proposals for technical assistance – available to sending organisations – and capacity building – available to hosting organisations (if you are wondering what the difference between technical assistance and capacity building is, the answer is not much). There is no need to be certified to participate in these calls and there is no obligation to later submit a deployment proposal.

The Commission’s aim is to bring humanitarian organisations up to European standards. Organisations can team up in partnerships (see criteria here) to submit proposals to run their own technical assistance and capacity building projects, which can include studies, visits, staff exchanges, reviews, simulations, webinars and other types of training. Projects will be judged on relevance and quality.

In terms of relevance, DG ECHO has come up with a list of 120 countries that they regard as priority for humanitarian intervention. Any proposal related to these countries receives extra points and stands a better chance of being accepted (although they are not ruling out other countries entirely).

At first glance, EU Aid Volunteers appears to be an interesting and promising initiative. A budget of under €150 million will not solve the world’s humanitarian crises but may be enough to implement some successful interventions.

Some volunteering organisations question some of the criteria for certification, especially the one demanding experience in humanitarian aid. Volunteering organisations may have a significant contribution to make to humanitarian work as sending or hosting organisations as long as they are eligible for funding. The Commission may have to review this policy in the future.

There are also several question marks over the new developed European standards. How do these conflict with member states’ existing standards in this field? Do diverging standards between member states mean that volunteers of different nationalities will have different conditions on the ground? What about those member states which have no standards for humanitarian work? The Commission will have to deal with these conflicts as the programme rolls out.

For the time being, only 28 EU countries are allowed to participate in the initiative. The Commission wants to make it available to other eligible countries in the future (for example EU candidate countries and EEA countries) but that will depend on bilateral agreements.

It is worth noting that EU Aid Volunteers is being launched in a year when Volonteurope will be reaching out to young people to make them aware of their political and citizenship rights and opportunities in Europe. Our efforts aim specially at people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The EU Aid Volunteers may be another opportunity for vulnerable young people to become active citizens in Europe and beyond.

If you are a Volonteurope member and wish to know more about EU Aid Volunteers don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Secretariat. Alternatively, have a look at the links provided above for further information. The EACEA website is also helpful.

It is always recommended that those interested have a look at the legal bits too: Regulation (EU) No 375/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 April 2014 establishing the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps (EU Aid Volunteers initiative).

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