European Civic Forum

Will Belgrade be the next participatory city? – Interview with Ne Da(vi)mo Beograd

After four years of local struggles and fights against the massive privatisation of public spaces, the citizens’ initiative Ne Da(vi)mo Beograd (Do not let Belgrade D(r)own) is now running for Belgrade local elections, which will be held on Sunday 4 March 2018. The grassroots’ movement which organised the biggest protests since the fall of Milosevic in 2000, aims at continuing its engagement at the institutional level. 

The European Civic Forum met them in their “headquarters” a few days ago and wanted to know more about this movement, which is committed to shift the struggle for common goods from the streets to the City Council! Ljubica Slavkovic, Dobrica Veselinovic and Marko Andjelic answered our questions. 

The Initiative Ne Da(vi)mo Beograd – Don’t Let Belgrade D(r)own were created as a group of active citizens, but you are now running for municipal elections. How do you switch from one to another?

Dobrica Veselinovic: Initiative that uses all possible means to fight for a better life for citizens, which includes political involvement, but also protests in the streets, administrative procedure against the institutions/

Ljubica Slavkovic: this is one of our main beliefs, that citizens need to do politics and to get involved in this. In doing so, we are just continuing what we started four years ago. There are no “switches” because we are doing it all the time.


Social issues are not a high priority in the political debate, especially in Serbia. We witness many discussions through a nationalistic approach. How do people react to your discourse when you bring forward social issues, a better environment? Is it a priority to them?

D.V: this nationalistic narrative is an easy tool to blur citizens’ perspectives and prevent them from looking into the real problems they are facing every day. In the media, you always see a scandal, something that diverts people’s attention from their problems.

When we discuss with people on the ground, they do not talk about nationalistic issues, they are facing so many problems in their daily life that talking about social matters is a relief for them. Also, we do it since our creation, while traditional politicians usually take measures just before the elections start.


“These movements gathered together with Ne Da(vi)mo Beograd do not necessarily share a political vision, but they want to improve life in their communities and environments.”Dobrica Veselinovic


How do you consider active citizenship in Belgrade and Serbia generally?

L.S: It is now related to a very positive feeling. In the beginning, we saw that people were not interested, because they felt helpless in resolving some systemic problems. Our primary goal was to bring them some hope back, that they could really change something in their environment. Four years later, more and more people are active politically; they are committed to bring a change in their communities themselves.

D.V: either we get closer to more themes of citizens’ interest, or there are more themes and struggles currently going on in Belgrade. Sometimes, it is not motivated by a broader vision to fight for a model, but all these movements we are gathering are here because of the need to improve their communities and their surroundings.


Do you feel an improvement in people’s participation, in their support to the Initiative?

L.S: a growing number of citizens are looking for information about us, creating new groups, coming to the protests and actions. Globally, we have much more people following and supporting us than we did at the beginning.

D.V: It started from a dozen of people, then grew in thousands, with some last events ended with more than 20,000 people. Definitely, the core group of people also increased and this shows that we are on the right path.

L.S: this is the result of really working on the issues that citizens face. Thus, we do not consider this as a political campaign, but rather the logical continuation of what we did in the previous years, in the neighbourhoods and on the streets.


“We are totally censored by the media, which operate under the regime’s thumb”Ljubica Slavkovic


You mentioned the engagement with people and information about the Initiative. How do they know about you? We have heard about the difficult situation of the media landscape* in Serbia…

D.V: not only are the channels of communication under control. All these places where politicians have a public space are also under strict scrutiny by the ruling party.

L.S: not to mention that we are totally censored by the media under the regime’s thumb.

D.V: for example, it is nowhere written on the official City’s website that there will be elections on 4 March. Also, the society is very polarised between pro- and anti-government supporters. It is always about some gossips, which does not enable a real debate to take place. Our biggest problem is that citizens barely know about us through mainstream media, otherwise we would have much more support. It also shows that they are scared of us, because we are pointing out at some real problems, which they try to cover up.

L.S: nevertheless, we have worked a lot on raising awareness among citizens. We have organised debates, conferences, workshops with citizens. We are mostly relying on the word to mouth method. Citizens who know us tell their friends and families and so on and so forth. Our informal network of communication is now well established.


We spoke about the protests you organised, the freedom to associate and the media blackout on neutral information.  How would you consider this civic space in Serbia at the moment?

L.S: I would call it a simulacrum. The Serbian Constitution guarantees all these freedoms, but it is all about pretending to respect them, because the authorities do not respect them at all in practice. All parts of society are under strict watching by the government and the ruling party

D.V: In addition to that, they always put forward the fact that there are numerous candidates and lists – some of them created by the Government to show that they respect plurality– in elections, a growing number of organisations (created by them too). It shows to what extend the Government tries to reflect an image of an open and democratic country, while it is not the case.


One last question: you have now well established links with similar groups of citizens across Europe and beyond. You have the support from abroad. Do you consider it as an advantage or is it too time-consuming?

D.V: when people from here do not often have the possibility to travel, study and learn abroad. You start wondering if your vision is the right one, if you are doing the right thing for your city. Of course, each city and each local struggle is peculiar and you cannot copy/paste successful models.

L.S: it is very important, to maintain these links and see that you are not alone in your fight. We are all calling for the same model. We learn a lot from each other and in this sense, having these transnational networks of citizens’ movements is crucial for the Initiative.

Marko Andjelic: I would also like to add that people from the region that live abroad are a very powerful way of disseminating our activities and work to other audiences, which usually do not hear that much about Serbian activism.



Some of the members in their headquarters – Belgrade, Serbia



* Transparency Serbia’s latest report shows that SNS, the ruling party of president Vucic, is overwhelmingly represented on front covers of the main national newspapers, 70 times more than all the opposition parties put together.

2005-2015: ten years of fight for democracy and civil dialogue

In 2005, several NGOs’ representative from across Europe started reflecting upon the widening gap between European institutions and the citizens they were supposed to serve and represent, following French and Dutch NOs to the referendum on a new European Treaty.

Ten years later, we wanted to look back at the past achievements and explore the future engagements of the European Civic Forum network.

Interview: Baobab Experience to fill an institutional void in the Italian capital

We interviewed Valerio Bevacqua for the group of volunteers Baobab Experience in Rome. Rome is the only European capital without a hub for migrants, and the actions of these citizens have prevented more than 60.000 migrants in three years to be left alone on the street. Nevertheless, the administration in Rome still does not recognise them as a partner to cooperate with.


Tell us something about your organisation. For example, what kind of services does it provide to migrants and why are they important?

Baobab, as a group of volunteers, was born in Spring 2015 in via Cupa, Rome. The idea was to offer first aid to “transit-migrants”, who would stop in Rome only for a few days and then keep their journey to Northern Europe. However, we had to move from via Cupa due to an evacuation of the police. Since then, there were more than 20 evacuations. We now operate behind the Tiburtina station.

More than 60’000 migrants came to Baobab, but after three years the situation is much different. Now crossing borders is more difficult and dangerous, and, even when they are able to reach their destination in another European country, the local authorities can send them back to Italy. This is the case of the so-called “Dubliners”, migrants that had their fingerprints taken at their arrival in Sicily who do not have the right to ask for asylum elsewhere in Europe.

Until September 2017, the European Union had established a Relocation Scheme, an ad-hoc initiative to release the pressure from countries of the first arrival and ensure migrants from Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea with the right of applying for international protection in other European countries. This was an exception to the Dublin regulation, and the plan foresaw that 160.000 people would have been relocated across the EU Member States in two years time. In reality, only about 30’000 people were transferred to other EU countries, about 10.000 from Italy. We are still waiting for an extension of this regime. In the meanwhile, Syrians, Iraqis, and Eritreans are stuck here with migrants of other nationalities.

As the political environment has changed, also Baobab services did. At the beginning, we were offering first aid support, an arrival kit, some clean clothes and a map of Europe to keep on their journey. Now we have to provide a more structural help as it is harder for them to leave Italy and some are asking for international protection here. Our action really substitutes that of local authorities: we still cover for material needs like a warm meal three times a day and clean clothes once per week. Now we also coordinate with other local NGOs such as A Buon Diritto, the Italian Refugee Council, Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU), Doctors without Borders, the Italian Radicals, Right(s) to the Heart among others to offer legal help, medical and psychological support.

We go with them to the local authorities because legal proceedings are carried out in Italian, and it is easy to misunderstand each other. Imagine, the questura of Rome only accepts twenty people per day. This means that people to register with the local authorities have to start lining up at night. When the office opens, they are tired after a long wait, nervous and do not understand the language authorities speak in because there are no cultural mediators. The situation is really out of hands, a real torture for those waiting to file their asylum applications. This legal support is really essential to fill the void left by the authorities.

Complementary to this, we organise other kinds of activities: cultural, sports, and artistic. For example, football games once a week, run, we will take part in the marathon in Rome. These activities are so important for people who experienced trauma. Also, sport and art are two channels of integration in society. These activities also include tours in the city, to museums, monuments, and exhibitions. They live in the street, and the only part of Rome they see is a parking lot. We want them to see the beauty of Rome and culturally connect with the city. We want to show a different side of the Italian culture and society.

Despite all these activities, we still are just a group of volunteers. We do not receive public funds, only donations from private citizens or non-governmental institutions. We are not paid for our work, so we do this in our free time after working or studying. We still do not have a kitchen, or bathrooms, or even access to water, nor electricity. We prepare meals at home, and we carry them here. For the water, we go to the train station.


BAOBAB Experience is probably is an emblematic case of criminalisation of solidarity as, from what I understand, it all began with the first evacuation of migrants and volunteers in Ponte Mammolo in June 2015. How is your relationship with the local administration and the police since then?

The relationship is fundamentally unidirectional. We went through three different local administrations with Ignazio Marino, the technical commission of Francesco Tronca, and now with Virginia Raggi. Nevertheless, we experience no change in their attitude to our work.

We ask their three councillors for social policies to establish a hub for migrants in transit. Rome is the only capital in Europe not to have one. They did promise us to build it, but still, there is no new development. If Baobab did not exist, they would out on the street. Marino said that he would renew the Ferrhotel next to Tiburtina station back in June 2015 and open it to the migrants. The structure was supposed to be able to welcome 80 people. This never happened but, even in the best case scenario, it would not be enough. Now that is winter, and the number of arrivals from the Mediterranean is decreased we host about 100 people. In the summer, we can reach 500-600. This is insufficient. This can only be a short-term solution, not a long-term one. There are many empty buildings in Rome, in the city centre too. Ideally, a hub should be established in Termini station, when the migrants reach Rome. But the local authorities have no interests in bringing the migrants in the heart of the city: “lontano dagli occhi, lontano dal cuore” (Translation: what you can’t see, can’t hurt). It is a way for the state not to see the problem, but for the migrants, this is like a punishment.

Occasionally, they tell us that a hub cannot be built because it would encourage more people to come to Italy. They even said to us that we, the volunteers from Baobab, are a ‘pull factor’ for migrants coming from Africa. I can only laugh at such a ridiculous statement. Really, it is ridiculous to think that people would leave their country and experience such a dangerous and difficult journey just because a small group of volunteers in Rome will welcome them in a parking lot, offering few tend to live in. The administration treats us as we were a luna park for migrants to have fun. It is so far away from the reality I hear in the stories of these people. They are so tragic.

An important initiative is the visit of schools, mostly high schools. We started by chance. You know some professors or some students… But then the word started spreading, and more and more schools began inviting us to share our experience with Baobab. We try to bring with us also migrants when they feel conformable. We let them free to talk about what they prefer: why they left, the journey to get to Europe, their staying in Italy. It is such a powerful experience for students. Most of them have never seen a migrant, only on the TV. Let alone talk to them. It is moving for everyone, students, volunteers, and migrants. Some student comes to us afterwards to ask how they can help.

Also, libraries in Rome recognised our role in managing the situation with migrants and last year they organised several conferences and meetings to share our experience. There were also filmmakers and high-level journalists, but we were always invited among the main speakers. It is funny, the local administration fails to recognise us as an essential partner to cooperate with, but other institutions consider our experience crucial to understand and handling migration in Rome.


How did the public administration justify these evacuations?


Well, the decisions were made by the local police, state officers, and local institutions. The reason was either public decency or even public security. Often these evacuations happened after terror attacks in other European cities. Baobab was treated as a group of terrorists.

When citizens were profoundly worried about their security, as a measure to release tensions, they would come, force the migrants on a bus, and then throw everything away. They throw everything they find, including documents and personal belongs. This is everything a migrant holds on to; this is such a psychological violence. But it is also a waste of public money and time, because when they bring the migrants to the questurea to have their fingerprints taken but their fingerprints are already in the system form their arrival in Italy. For these reasons we filed a legal complaint, but it will take time to give results.

I think it is such nonsense to treat these measure as functional to security. Quite the opposite. Investing in protection for migrants is an investment in security because you prevent people with multiple psychological traumas from living in the street. Without Baobab these people would still be in Rome, just they would be alone in the street, easy prey for micro criminality and organised crime. Otherwise, how would they survive?


How can the European institution improve EU migration policies to encourage cooperation between civil society and public administration?


I think that a discussion to change the Dublin regulation is already a positive step. The EU must encourage solidarity among member states and moderate the tones of the conversation: talking about an invasion is misleading, there are not the numbers for this. Especially in comparison with other realities across the world. ⅓ of Lebanon population is migrants. Also, the EU should think migration policies more comprehensively, including integration in the work market.

Images form Baobab Facebook page



Public consultation on EU funds in the area of values and mobility

To prepare the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework, the Commission has launched an open public consultation on EU funds in the area of values and mobility.

The questionnaire related to the consultation can be found by clicking on the following link: All citizens and organisations are welcome to respond to this consultation.

In 2018, the Commission will make comprehensive proposals for the next generation of financial programmes for the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework, which is the EU’s long–term budget.  The Commission’s proposals will be designed to make it possible for the EU to deliver on the things that matter most, in areas where it can achieve more than Member States acting alone. This requires a careful assessment both of what has worked well in the past and what could be improved in the future. This consultation is an integral part of the process and its objective is to collect the views of all interested parties on how to make the most of every euro of the EU budget.

Consultations have taken place in the context of evaluations of existing EU financial programmes covering several policy areas, including on current performance and future challenges. The views expressed by stakeholders in these consultations will be taken into account as part of the current process for the future Multiannual Financial Framework.

In parallel, to this consultation, there are others running in parallel, covering the entire spectrum of EU future funding in the following areas: Cohesion; Investment; Security; Migration and Asylum; Strategic Infrastructure.

Following the LIBE hearing on Hungary today

Today, the LIBE Committee of the European parliament organised a public hearing on the situation of fundamental rights and the Rule of Law in Hungary. Sitting in the panel with Judith SARGENTINI and Claude MORAES were also Marta PARDAVI from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Gábor POLYÁK from Mertek Media Monitor, Miklós SZÁNTHÓ (Centre for Fundamental Rights) and eventually Péter SZIJJÀRTÓ, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Hungarian government.

After an initial introduction by the two MEPs, Mr. Szijjarto, coming as representative of the Hungarian government delivered a speech every demagogue in Europe would label as a model. Without referring to allegations of systemic breach of the Rule of law and fundamental rights, he drew dangerous parallels between migrants fleeing war zones and the number of terror attacks in the EU. While admitting that Hungary joined the European Union in 2004 because of the values it stands for, Mr. Szijjarto accused once again NGOs funded by foreign sources – mainly by George Soros – of working against the interest of the Hungarian people. Eventhough his party was condemned a few days ago by the Hungarian court to apologise to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee for similar allegations, Mr. Szijjarto opposed the vision of his government to the one of the EU, saying that “if the EU does not like what they hear in Hungary, the Hungarians do not like what they here in Brussels neither”.  On this claim that Orban’s government represents the one and only view of all Hungarians, Mrs. Sargentini reminded him that “Fidesz is a party, not a government, not a state and not the people”.

The audience had to wait until Marta Pardavi took the floor to hear some further aspects about the shrinking space for civil society and attempts to undermine democracy. She notably explained that Hungarian NGOs are already compelled to disclose information about their financial sources and their funds.

                               “The law on NGOs receiving funds from abroad is only meant at stigmatising those organisations, by forcing them to put a label “Funded from abroad” on all their communication materials.- Marta Pardavi, Hungarian Helsinki Committee”

These outcomes were confirmed by the Venice Commission opinion on the Lex NGO, as well as by the UN experts, who urged the Hungarian government to repeal the law.

When it came to laws on the media, Gabor Polyak, whose organisation Mertek is monitoring the legislative acts related to media gave a precise timeline of the crackdown on the audiovisual sector by Viktor Orban since his first election. Quoting official statistics, he said that TV channels owned by oligarchs close to Fidesz were given huge amounts of state advertising in comparison to more popular and independent channels. Mr. Polyak also warned about high ownership concentration and the purge that occurred in public broadcasting services following the arrival of Orban into power, while regulatory bodies were progressively dismantled by several laws.

Represented by Mr. Szantho, the Centre for Fundamental Rights – an organisation close to the government – argued that the values laid out in Article 2 TEU were undefined and could therefore be interpreted differently in Hungary than they were by the European institutions. As Israel Butler reminded him in a Tweet posted during the debate, the numerous guidelines and case-laws produced by the United Nations, European and national institutions proved he was wrong.

One could also have reminded Mr. Szantho that Hungary also signed the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and that these terms are well defined in the Charter.

As members of the LIBE committee took the floor, several MEPs – including some EPP members and far-right groups – defended the opinion of the government. Sophie In’t Veld (NL, ALDE), who was rapporteur for a report on democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law in 2016, reminded Mr. Szijjarto that investigations were opened against Hungary for a long time, even before the dispute over the migrants relocation scheme. In a very intensive manner, she also called upon the EPP group to ban Fidesz from its group in the European Parliament. Barbara Kudrycka (PL, EPP) insisted on the fact that the Hungarian government should stop presenting the EU as an enemy, as it does at the moment through media propaganda.

In the end, the hearing showed the determination of the Hungarian government not to comply with EU legislation when it comes to the migration policy, but also their will to maintain the anti-NGO law, even if the Commission referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice today, because of this precise law. To conclude, Hungarian Foreign Minister set a rendez-vous with the European institutions in the European Court of Justice.

Mrs. Sargentini had the last word, saying that she will have the report ready by March 2018 on whether the European Parliament should trigger sanctions foreseen by Article 7 TEU.

Romania: Bucharest mayor bans public protests on city’s main square

The Bucharest Mayor’s Office, led by one of the most popular political figures of the governing Social Democratic Party, is taking actions deterring civic protests in front of the Governmental building.

Just yesterday, November 28th, The Bucharest local authorities announced they shall organize, for the first time in Romania’s post-communist history, a second Christmas fair. It shall be placed exactly in the spot where most civic protests of 2017 started, taking place in parallel with the traditional one, in front of the Palace of Parliament. The choice for the square in front of the Government is rather odd since it hardly ever hosted similar public events: covered in asphalt, surrounded by several high traffic boulevards and not connected to the nearby sidewalk with any pedestrian crossings. The square had become a landmark of the 2017 protests, since it was the single relevant place to host the hundreds of thousands of protesters against the governmental actions. Facebook groups were also mobilising for massive protests in this location on December 1st, when Romania celebrates its national day.

Several organisations and civic groups already announced the Mayor’s office decision is considered to clearly impede on the organisation of any protests there. The fair will involve the installation of a lot of cottages and a stage. In addition, two public gatherings in the same place are not allowed  by the relevant legislation, so this situation would easily transform the protesters in felons. Nevertheless, the protests scheduled on December 1st will still take place in the same location, announced the organisers.

Polish Women’s Strike – information on the 11.11.2017 events in Warsaw and Wrocław

Neo-nazi Day in Poland: 3 women injured, 9 mauled, spat on and verbally abused in Warsaw by neonazis, 1 injured and 3 mauled in Wrocław, 45 people detained as a “prevention” measure. As Polish government encourages and enables neo-nazi and neo-fascist movements, Polish local authorities allow neo-nazis and neo-fascist marches in Polish cities and police turn their heads away from the crimes and misdemeanors taking place. The verbal and physical violence follows. The citizens are on their own against the hate and racism wave.

In Warsaw, 12 Polish Women’s Strike activists were attacked while peacefully protesting behind the #WomenAgainstFascism motto, no police in sight. Before that, 45 peaceful protesters from the Polish Women’s Strike and other citizens’ groups – standing next to the neo-nazi march route –  were detained and taken to two police stations, kept for almost 12 hours without any charges being put.

In Wrocław, 15 peaceful protesters that stood on the 1500 people neo-nazi march route were removed by the police, with neo-nazis verbally and physically abusing them from the other side, throwing firecrackers and bottles at them. One woman was hit with a firecracker that set her hair on fire. Police declined to take any action or any reports on the events and let the perpetrators walk away undisturbed.

“Fascism and nazism and all the ideologies based on them are forbidden by the Polish Constitution. But nor the government, neither the local authorities in most Polish cities obey this law – encouraging and allowing the neonazi marches. The police ignores the law being broken – with the symbols, banners and chants, with the firecrackers and other dangerous materials that are explicitly forbidden, with the verbal and physical violence. It’s only us, the people, the citizens, mostly women! standing in their way, peacefully protesting. We don’t choose the civic disobedience, we are forced to use it as our last resort as all other means failed” – Marta Lempart, Polish Women’s Strike (initiator of the #FascismNoPasaran blockade in Wrocław)

The Guardian (UK) quotes experts who believe the marches in Poland this weekend were “the biggest gatherings of far-right activists in Europe in recent years”.

Voluntary Services in France, Challenges and Tendencies

This interview, done by Bundesnetzwerk Bürgerschaftliches Engagement (BBE) with David Lopez, was initially published on BBE’s newsletter.David Lopez is the head ofthe International and European Relations in La Ligue de l’Enseignement, an organisation created in 1886 in France and one of the founding members of the European Civic Forum. BBE is a nationwide network linking organisations and associations from the third sector (non-profit organizations) and civil society, from business and work life and federal and community institutions.

First of all, it is important to clarify different terms: In English volunteering is unique word used for different activities. In France we have two words: Bénévolat and Volontariat. The notion of volontariat is relatively recent. Bénévolat is considered as a not paid activity, freely chosen which is generally organised within a non-profit institution. The better translation in English is volunteerism.

Volontariat that we can translate in English as voluntary work defines an activity with a for-mal commitment (a contract for a limited duration). The volunteer is not salaried but re-ceives compensation. The different statuses of volunteering work are exceptional regarding the labor code. Finally the contract of volunteering work does not imply direct link of subor-dination.

Volontariat (Volunteering work) is in the border of labour market and volunteerism or chari-ty activity (in the UK sense). This specific position creates confusions. In the situation of bad rates of unemployment es-pecially for young people, some politicians or responsible institutions consider volunteering work as a door or even an alternative to jobs, while volunteering organizations consider the role of personal and collective commitment as a pre requisite to enter in volunteering work.

Different Voluntary Services in France

  1. Animateur Volontaire

    The oldest voluntary activity in the sense of volunteering work is the activities of social and cultural animation in the summer camps or in what we call centres de vacances, centres de loisirs, accueil de loisirs. L’animateur (organizer, facilitator, animator; different translations are possible.) is one person who commits herself or himself to act in a non-professional edu-cational activity. His or her role is educational and is a kind of civil society commitment to participate freely to children or youth education. During years 1930 to 1980 it was a strong link between formal system of education and leisure and non-formal education. After 1980, the tendency was to professionalize the sector and numerous animateurs used this volun-teering work as a springboard into the job. There is still an ambiguity in the sector between professional or volunteering activity. Employers sometimes use the status of these volun-teers to respond to a real demand of jobs and of the market.

  2. Volunteer International

    Service Volunteer International Service exists since the years 1950 / 1960. It was an alternative to the military service. Nowadays it is a free choice of around 3000 persons. The control of the activities are under the control of foreign affairs ministry. NGO’s nonprofit are the organizers on the ground. The volunteers receive compensation per month that permits to have a quite decent life in the countries they live in. Social security as well as health services are financed. There are trainings and preparation to the mission as well as a returning debriefing to favor the “re-insertion” of the volunteers in “classical” activities.

  3. Service Civique (Civic Service):

    Created in 2010 le service civique is a volunteering mission from 6 to 12 months in a nonprofit, or an official organization (municipality, hospitals, social work organization, etc.). It has not to be a “normal” working position which could be occupied by one worker or employee. The activities occupied by the young volunteer (under 30) have to be of general and social interest. Service civique has a strong impact in the generation aged 18 to 30. It is open to all young people without or with different levels of studies. The government wants to generalize this opportunity to more young people.

Reality of Voluntary Services and Contradictions with Labour Market

Associations and different civil society representing organizations give a strong value to the role of volunteering in two definitions that I mentioned in the beginning of the article. For
different backgrounds some organizations understand the role of volunteering as a completely none paid activity and some others want to push the idea of volunteering work as a way to have a commitment in the society with recognition by a compensation of volunteer’s essential role.

The problem of unemployment has an impact on the sense and the objectives of those different voluntary services. They appear as an alternative to employment. The risk is that there is no training or accompanying measures to prepare young people to translate their commitment in a real social and useful action for them and for society.

The second risk is that these activities become a sort of compulsory way to be included in the society. Young people have a string impression of social insecurity because of these different ways before entering in society with social and professional autonomy.

The third risk is that associations, nonprofit organizations, as well as municipalities, use voluntary services as a subvention and an alternative to real jobs.
The tendencies of the sector are in my opinion not very positive. The labor market is not better today, and then the confusions between voluntary services and jobs are still there. For example there is a government project to transform service civique in a universal service for all boys and girls in France. It could be not so long, but for all one generation, using the ancient model of military service. There are a lot of discussions in youth associations and education associations to have a position on that issue. The notion of universal and compul-sory is very criticized by some organizations referring to the values of education populaire that means a free and deliberate choice in volunteering activities. The question is on the table of interministerial body (Army, education, youth and sports, etc.).

The idea of supporting and recognizing voluntary activities could be an opportunity for the government to reinforce the idea of general interest and to develop civic and civilian reflex-es. But because of lack of financing and the lack of a real youth policy that idea is not effec-tive. In that dimension more cooperation between civil society organizations from different coun-tries of European Union could push better projects. For example the negotiation and discus-sion for future European programs for the campaign starting in 2020 will start on late 2018. European coordination will be a strong positive element.

European Citizenship Awards: CHECK OUT THE LAUREATES OF THE 2017 EDITION

Organised jointly by the European Civic Forum and Volonteurope, the European Citizenship Awards 2017 promote and give visibility to outstanding and inspiring initiatives and individuals who have put European democratic citizenship into practice, and in so doing have had a positive impact on their communities. This year, the European Citizenship Awards aimed at rewarding initiatives which contribute to combatting the root causes of extremism. The candidates were selected through an international jury and public online voting and we can now announce the Laureates for 2017:

Active CitizensPolish Women’s Strike: An independent social movement of angry women (as they called themselves) and supportive men, that began in Poland. Polish Women’s Strike initiated and organised the nationwide protest against the Polish government’s plans for a total ban on abortion on 3 October 2016. Theirs was the first major mass mobilisation of Polish women in defence of their rights, and more than 100,000 women and men took part in the strike, with participation spread across Poland’s major cities and towns.

Media InitiativeWe Are Here Academy. In 2012, a group of refugees in limbo organised themselves into a collective to highlight the problems they have encountered as refugees in the Netherlands. Under the banner of We Are Here they campaigned for political recognition and to underline the reality and impact of current Dutch asylum policies, bringing refugee issues to the forefront of the political agenda. One of their flagship programmes is the Media Academy, which focuses on educating the We Are Here community in journalism so that they feel empowered to engage in public discourse about the refugee and migrant crisis.

Social EnterpriseTaste of Home started as a culinary cultural research project of the Centre for Peace Studies in Croatia. Its aim was to celebrate the culture, customs and countries of origin of refugees and migrants in Croatia through the medium of cooking. Refugees, migrants and Croatians came together to share culinary skills and life stories, and it served as an opportunity for migrants and refugees to explore their memories of home through the smells and tastes of their cuisines. Within only a few years, Taste of Home has been established as a social cooperative.

VolunteerSaid JASSER is a young Syrian refugee, born in Aleppo. He escaped from civil war and Daesh via the so called Balkan Route, arriving in Germany in November 2015. Since the day of his arrival, he dedicated himself to studying German, using Internet-based learning tools and books from public libraries. Thanks to his dedication he was soon able to communicate fluently in German, which has subsequently allowed him to support other refugees from Arabic speaking countries. In August 2016 he asked to join the community interpreting service, run by our NGO, with the participation of volunteers originating from about 35 countries.

Besides these outstanding Laureates, the jury chose to reward two other candidates: Makers for Change, a France-based organisation, for their work as a social enterprise, as well as Wynne Edwards who was nominated for the Volunteer of the Year and who is one of the pillars of the Coalition of UK Citizens’ groups in the EU.

After London last year, this year’s Awards ceremony will take place in Brussels on 8 November 2017, under the patronage of Mrs. Sylvie Guillaume, vice-president of the European Parliament in charge of Citizenship. Winners and jury awards were also be invited to take part in various events and meetings linked to civic space and democracy across Europe, such as the Civil Society Days in Brussels (26-27 June 2017).

Registration to the Ceremony of the European Citizenship Awards is free. To register, please click here.

The organisers would again like to thank all the nominees and applicants for this year’s edition. There were nominees with really brilliant and transformative ideas, and inspiring initiatives and volunteers bringing very positive narratives to combating extremism in Europe.


The ECF is recruiting: 6 month internship in our Brussels office!

You have recently completed your studies and want to have a first professional experience in Brussels? Join our team and get the opportunity to know more about civil society organisations and the European affairs.

Who are we ?

The European Civic Forum (ECF) is a transnational network that brings together over 100 associations and NGOs across Europe and is actively working to promote civic and popular ownership of Europe, to foster citizens’ participation and the emergence of a European public space where the role and influence of civil society are fully recognized though the setting up of a genuine European civil dialogue.

What do we stand for?

Since its creation in 2005, the European Civic Forum has been particularly work­ing to:

  • Enable civic participation through citi­zens’ associations and movements for a Europe grounded on Equality, Soli­darity and Democracy that guarantees effective access to rights for all
  • Support the structuring of European civil society movement through alli­ance building, collective thinking and joint campaigning for the common good
  • Fight for the institutional recognition of civil society through the setting up of a genuine European civil dialogue.

How we take action?

  • We connect civil society actors transnationally and cross-sectorally through conferences, forums, alliances, working groups
  • We participate in civil dialogue struc­tures at European level
  • We run campaigns for the recognition of civil society organisations in the policy making process at European, national or local level

Please feel free to visit our website and read our last annual report for more information about ECF and our activities.


The ECF secretariat is composed of a small but dynamic and multi-task team, responsible for the implementation of the work programme and the day-to-day management of the network. We are currently seeking an intern to mainly assist the secretariat and support ECF development, working in close cooperation with the network members, relying upon and strengthening their experience and expertise to develop projects, campaigns, policy papers and reports.


Joining the ECF staff team based in Brussels, the intern will contribute to:

  • Support the organisation of activities foreseen in the ECF work programme, mainly :
    • Set up and editorial content management for “Civic Space Watch” – online tool for monitoring the state of civic space in Europe, in articulation with “CIVICUS Monitor” and ECF members and partners
    • Set up and development of a transnational debate and awareness rising campaign in the perspective of the forthcoming European elections
  • Contribute to media outreach (contact files, press releases, social media, etc.) ;
  • Contribute to the preparation of the annual magazine “Activizenship”
  • Participate in public events at local, national and European level
  • Contribute to the drafting of European project proposals


  • Graduate of European Studies, Political Science or equivalent
  • Excellent writing and oral skills in English (working language), good command of French appreciated
  • Knowledge of the European Union and its policies
  • Experience in working in the NGOs sector and/or European environment is highly appreciated



  • 6 month paid internship in the frame of a CIP – Convention d’immersion professionnelle
  • starting date: as soon as possible
  • the intern will be based in the ECF office in Brussels, located 4-6 rue de Pascale, with travel opportunities abroad.


To apply, please send a cover letter and a CV in English to Alexandrina Najmowicz, ECF Director (


Please send your applications by e-mail before 23 October at the latest.