Members of EU Parliament express support for measuring volunteering in Europe

Just weeks after its First Vice-President issued a press statement calling on EU Member States to implement the ILO Manual, the European Parliament in Brussels was the meeting point of EVMP partners with MEPs from all major political groups, policy makers, representatives from civil society, and researchers, recognising the importance of data collection on volunteering in Europe.
 
The 1 February 2012 Round Table at the European Parliament in Brussels was titled “Measuring the Value of Volunteering.” Organised by EVMP partners, and hosted by Ms. Patrizia Toia, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), the event aimed to take account of the amount, character, and impact of volunteering, and to address the policy recommendation on research and data collection made by the European Commission to EU Member States and reiterated by the Council of the European Union.
 
In the opening remarks, Ms. Eva Hambach, President of the European Volunteer Centre (CEV), an EVMP partner, spoke about the need for collecting data on volunteering across Europe and reiterated CEV’s commitment to keeping volunteering measurement at the core of its policy agenda. Ms. Marian Harkin, MEP, co-president of the European Parliament Volunteering Interest Group and a long time promoter of the ILO Manual, then opened the general discussion. Participants also had the opportunity to hear about the development, applicability, and advantages of the ILO Manual from one of its co-authors, Ms. Megan Haddock of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, and then to see some of the preliminary results of its implementation in Poland, presented by Mr. Slawomir Nalecz of the Central Statistical Office, and research fellow in the Institute of Political Studies at the Polish Academy of Sciences. SPES representative Ksenija Fonovic also described the EVMP, its goal of catalysing the volunteer measurement agenda in Europe, its policy and implementation achievements thus far, and provided a vision of the road forward – especially the need for basic data on volunteering as the essential background for assessing the social and economic impacts of voluntary action.
 

MEPs present at the event expressed their consideration for the value of volunteering in our society and their interest and support of volunteering measurement. “A tool such as the Manual is necessary. From an operational point of view, it allows us to look at the volunteering sector in all countries” underlined MEP Marco Scurria. Speaking about the role of volunteering in times of trouble, and of the invaluable support of volunteers, British MEP Jean Lambert stressed the importance of measuring volunteering to take account of their contributions and to understand our economies using empirically sound concepts. Doing so brings insight into “just how big our ‘Big Society’ is” and reflect on all that would not be possible without volunteers.
 
From a policy standpoint, MEP Silvia Costa prodded the European Commission to keep the evaluation of the scope and of the impacts of volunteering on the agenda. In this context the adoption of the initially prospected White Paper on Volunteering would be a good advancement in this policy area. MEP Vittorio Prodi stressed how important it is to “go beyond the GDP” and work on standards to measure immaterial goods, where volunteering plays an important role in anchoring the future of Europe to fundamental values of keeping people at the centre of all public policy and of caring for common good.
 
Representatives of the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee were invited to give their views on the way forward for the implementation of the ILO Manual across Europe. Mr John Macdonald, Head of the European Year of Volunteering 2011 Taskforce at the European Commission recalled the political endorsement of ILO Manual implementation from the EU institutions and advised that the current and future European thematic years be used to keep volunteering on the EU policy agenda. Mr Luca Jahier, President of Group III-Various Interests at the European Economic and Social Committee summarized the importance of keeping focus on this effort because, although instinct and common sense tell us about the importance of volunteering, we need to demonstrate its ‘value added’ with evidence based data. Mr. Jahier stressed the importance of collecting such data to ensure quality volunteering and called on EUROSTAT to request data on volunteering from all EU Member States in order to meet this need.