One year after the French and Dutch “No”s to the TCE, the EU seems paralysed and lacking a real impulse. In the Duff-Voggenhuber report, the European Parliament is asking for initiatives coming from the citizens and the Commission’s plan D is also calling for more debates. In that context, it is our duty as a political organisation committed to the promotion of European awareness to try to do the best with this period of reflection and to take over the initiative on new political goals.
What is a European Civilian Service?
The idea of a European Civilian Service is not a new idea. Many pro-Europeans argued in the past in favour of such a common programme as a real alternative to the military service.
The ECS shall offer to all Europeans between 18 and 30 years of age the opportunity to obtain professional experience in a country other than their country of origin. The participants would be working for a period of 6 months to one year with other young people from various Member States on a common mission. These missions may include cultural activities, environmental protection, humanitarian actions in case of natural or industrial catastrophes, civilian protection, actions promoting social integration, cohesion between younger and elderly people, etc. The civilian service would be fulfilled in an NGO or a public service organisation.
In countries where conscription military service still exists and/or where a civilian service model is already in place, this form of commitment should become an alternative.
As many young people as possible shall participate in the programme, creating a broad and shared sense of European collectiveness. To avoid a negative or coercive impression, the service should be assumed on a voluntary basis. Nevertheless, both EU and Member States will have to make sure that they are able to answer the possibly large demand.
One major factor for making the European Civilian Service attractive for young people is official recognition as a valuable educational and professional experience. Furthermore any exclusion of young people for financial reasons must be prevented. Hence, participants of the Civilian Service must be compensated sufficiently enough so as to integrate people with fewer opportunities as well.
The positive effects of such kind of programme are evident. Other examples have already demonstrated that exchange programmes represent the best promotion tool for the European Union, combating all forms of prejudices and nationalism. But above all they contribute to the creation of a genuine European citizenship.
What makes the ECS different?
Some may argue that the ECS is just an extension of Erasmus or the European Voluntary Service, but this is only partially correct. We send a strong signal to our political leaders by demanding more money for exchange and education programmes. Contrary to recent budgetary decisions, these programmes represent a real priority for many Europeans.
There are two main differences between the European Civilian Service and Erasmus. The ECS concerns all young people - not only students - and it should not consist of individual programmes, but collective initiatives.
Above all it is a beautiful project for the medium and long term, deserving our support and patience. Let’s be ambitious and keep in mind that we want to stay “a generation ahead”. I think it’s a great and aspiring programme for Europe and as such an initiative to be supported by our organisation!