Let’s take Europe as our horizon: for a European civic service

, by Collectif pour un Service Civique Européen , Translated by Lauren Mason

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Let's take Europe as our horizon: for a European civic service
Photo: CC0

We, a group of young professionals, represent a citizens’ movement advocating for the implementation of a Europe-wide civic service for all young people. At a time when the European project is being called into question by political extremists, and with the European Parliament elections of May 2019 fast approaching, we are convinced that our fellow Europeans are in need of concrete initiatives like this to spark their interest in building a common future.

In May 2019, all EU citizens will be called to the ballot box to vote on a single question: What next for Europe? Our belief is clear: in the age of Brexit and the rise of Eurosceptic parties across the European Union, Europe cannot be reduced to the single market. Whilst we might have reached a high level of integration, Europe lacks a soul, a political perspective, around which its citizens can rally. We must dare to place Europe once again in the centre of people’s daily lives, through a concrete project that reaches and engages with them. It is a question of vital importance for the EU.

Setting up a European Civic Service

Our idea is simple. We want to create a European Civic Service for all young people of a certain age, in which they would carry out projects for the common good across all EU Member States. Because what major project, what great symbol, could better signal the desire for a more political Europe, shaped by citizens and dedicated to a prosperous and united future? We are convinced that this initiative will serve to mobilise all European citizens to actively contribute to an EU project that they can believe in, provided we give them the means and the motivation. For concrete projects to be carried out by young people in all corners of all participating Member States would be a brilliant testimony to European solidarity, one which would include people from all walks of life. Nevertheless, achieving this would require a clear expression of political support from the Member States willing to participate.

Fight for change, fight for Europe

As young people, and as members of a citizens’ movement, we have been inspired by the spirit of change over the past few months and have been active in bringing this idea into the public sphere. We have approached the French authorities who supposedly designated European integration and youth policies as their key priorities. Now, we hope that citizens across France and across Europe will take up our idea, defend it, breathe life into it, and endow Europe with a project that it so badly needs. The benefits of a European Community Service scheme are too great to be ignored. At a time when ambitious plans to reinstate national service in France have been scaled back to create a short-term service (which risks rendering the whole programme pointless), a European Community Service would go far beyond the benefits of national service.

Investing in a people’s Europe

The European Community Service (ECS) would have three advantages. Firstly, a societal advantage. It would satisfy the aspirations of young people, of various reservists and of those involved in clubs or associations to contribute to society. Indeed, the willingness of young people has already been proven in France by the success of the voluntary community service scheme (service civique volontaire). Secondly, an economic advantage. It would give young people a chance to build a life that breaks away from a predetermined future characterised by the threat of unemployment, which currently affects 25-20% of young jobseekers across Europe. In fact, ECS would provide people with initial work experience in a domain that is useful to society, thus breaking the cycle of “intern, interim, insecurity,” which has become the norm for our generation even in the most prosperous corners of our continent. Finally, it would create a unique space for encounters and exchange at the European level, transcending the economic, cultural and social barriers which increasingly divide our societies. It is above all this element that makes it worth fighting for a compulsory community service scheme, one of the few methods at our disposal for making sure that no-one gets left behind.

Creating a new European pact

The successes of existing programmes, such as Erasmus or the European Voluntary Service, demonstrate that a whole generation is keen to discover new countries – an ever more vital experience in our global world. But these experiences remain inaccessible – even unimaginable – for the vast majority of young people. The ECS, open to everyone, irrespective of educational background or foreign language skills, would allow everyone to have an experience abroad, even those who currently believe it to be impossible. Indeed, such a scheme is probably the only way to create a true European spirit, thanks to personal encounters and direct experiences of what Europe actually is. We do not have to look far to find numerous challenges common to all Member States that could be addressed via community service placements: climate change, an ageing population, social and geographical solidarity, adapting to technological developments, and many others. The level of public investment in these areas has long been lacking and ECS could be a direct way of tackling these problems.

Taking action to defend European integration

Responding to these challenges requires action and cooperation between all public bodies, especially at the local level. This is why we will introduce as soon as possible a pilot scheme in cross-border regions, which can test the feasibility of the initiative, before we scale it up across the whole of Europe. Those Member States willing to participate could join forces through enhanced cooperation, or even in an ad hoc manner, as many of the major steps of European integration were carried out. The tradition of national service or of sojourns abroad already exists in many of our closest neighbours and partner countries. The willingness of young Europeans to go abroad and to be involved in their societies exists, too. The practical aspects of how to implement the programme have already been thought through and it is now ready to be trialled and publicly debated. This project might seem ambitious. It certainly is. But it is wholly necessary and, in encouraging the progressive rapprochement of citizens from different countries, is fully in line with the spirit of the European project. All that remains to be seen is whether there is enough determination and courage out there to build this European future.

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