Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here, in Viana do Castelo, to launch the new European Solidarity Corps.
Viana is a symbolic place for this launch.
For centuries, sailors and pilgrims have come here to show their devotion to Our Lady of Agony. At sea, they are far from land, alienated. They can only rely on each other, on their solidarity, and hope the storm will be followed by calm.
As I was travelling here, reading about this, it dawned on me how important this connection is, as we start recovering from the pandemic.
Covid-19 was hard on us all.
But it was especially hard on young people.
They, too, were suddenly at sea. They relied on the connections they had, as they ventured into adulthood.
Yet by helping each other, by expressing solidarity, they overcame the difficulties that we have collectively faced.
Much like sailors at sea, young people were not merely hoping the storm would pass. They could rely on their shared bond – forged through helping each other – knowing that their community awaited them at home.
This is the fundamental role of the European Solidarity Corps.
The Corps empowers young people to help our communities. To venture out, go to different parts of Europe – and with this new programming period, other parts of the world as well – and connect!
In fact, as Vice-president Schinas said, for the first time, the European Solidarity Corps will also empower young people to volunteer in humanitarian aid across the world, starting in 2022.
I think it is clear: we are making solid strides consolidating this programme as the entry point for those who want to engage in solidarity activities.
We want to empower young people and organisations that want to go beyond waiting for the storm to pass, and want to help each other through it, together.
And we saw this entrepreneurial spirit at work last year. So many young people engaged with their communities to help everyone through it.
Across Europe, our young volunteers came together to sow masks and help provide food and medicine for the elderly.
A project set up telephone support lines to help people suffering from loneliness and isolation. There were even projects on support for mental health and reducing its stigmatisation!
There are so many examples. Let me just share one.
The “Change makers” project, in Slovenia, brought people together, across generations, to help them learn how to use new means of communication, staying connected.
They also helped people struggling with mental illness, old people, and people with disabilities, by organising culinary workshops or sport activities.
They brought people together so they could rely a little more on each other. They did not just express solidarity – they set up the means to multiply it.
From many small boats, scattered at sea, they made a fleet.
That feeling of accomplishment when you see a community come together – that is what we are empowering as we launch this new programme.
From 2021 to 2027, we will help over 270,000 young people connect with a new community. There, they will make a meaningful contribution. And in this process, they will live through an unforgettable experience that will likely change their lives, also gaining new skills.
Together with our colleagues from the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, we have secured EUR 1 billion to make this happen.
Yet none of this could be achieved without the fantastic work of our National Agencies and of so many stakeholders, in Portugal and across Europe, who have helped us accomplish this.
Ladies and gentlemen,
On 20 August, many will come together right here, in Viana, to celebrate the fact that we can rely on each other – and on our shared bond, in agony, in hope, and in solidarity.
Today, we celebrate the fact that Europe, too, is engaged in bringing us together, empowering us to help each other. Just like the festivities in Viana bring a community together, so does the Corps.
You all know the motto of the European Solidarity Corps is “the power of together”. As only together, can we achieve greater impact and solidarity.
In this way, the Corps is a key instrument for a stronger, more integrated Europe.
From making a success out of the Green Deal to supporting economic recovery, from adapting to a more digitalised world to preserving European democracy, the European Solidarity Corps is central to our European priorities.
Indeed, citizen participation is paramount. This was the biggest reason behind the Conference on the Future of Europe. And young people are no exception.
I truly hope all of you participate. We want to hear your voice.
It is along this line that on 1st June I announced our new Youth Coordinator, Ms Biliana Sirakova.
She will be the contact point for our youth.
She will coordinate our different actions across our policies.
Anticipate the potential participation of the youth to major political initiative. I mentioned the Conference of the Future of Europe, but there are others, such as the New European Bauhaus as well.
Give visibility to the ideas and contributions of the youth and make sure that they are taken into account in our upcoming initiatives. Your work, across education and youth, is central to the development of an ever-closer Union.
And for that, you should be proud.