Young people in the EU: The European Voluntary Service

Young volunteers in Europe

One of the pillars of the European Union is solidarity between its 28 member states. Young people can experience this principle in action by volunteering in projects run by the European Voluntary Service (EVS). The German War Graves Commission, for example, looks after German war graves abroad on behalf of the Federal Government and runs its own youth project.   

Young people tending gravestones in Ysselsteyn, Netherlands

Young people tending gravestones in Ysselsteyn: the European Voluntary Service (EVS) promotes cultural exchange within the European Union

Photo: Volksbund

EU citizens between the age of 17 and 30 can volunteer in projects in the 28 EU member states as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Turkey, North Macedonia and Serbia. The EVS is funded by the European Commission and the Erasmus programme.

100,000 volunteers in 20 years

The EVS has gained in popularity in recent years: More than 100,000 young people have volunteered in one of its projects over the past 20 years. Of these, 97 per cent stated that working abroad improved their foreign language skills and that they in particular benefitted from the intercultural experience.

Young people generally spend between two and 12 months abroad. Shorter stays are possible for those who require special assistance due to illness or a disability.

Strengthening European cohesion

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer should start looking at least eight months in advance for an organisation with a specific project which will support them planning their stay abroad. 

EVS partner organisations usually run projects in the fields of culture, sport, art, animal welfare, the environment and development cooperation. The aim is always to strengthen European cohesion and promote cultural exchange. Since the end of 2018 EVS has been part of the European Solidarity Corps (ESC). The ESC offers opportunities for volunteers and interns, as well as having its own employees. It also runs its own solidarity projects in areas such as refugee aid, and in emergencies like natural disasters.

German War Graves Commission

The German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge) is a special organisation within the EVS. It is responsible for the maintenance of German war graves abroad and is the only such service worldwide to have its own youth programme.

“The Commission’s transnational youth work has been known for decades for building bridges towards international understanding following the Second World War – and it still is. Even today we can’t have enough people working actively for a common, peaceful Europe,” says its Secretary-General Daniela Schily.

Places where people can meet

War cemeteries enjoy special legal protection and are intended to be powerful reminders of the value of peace. They are places where people of different nationalities can meet, as well as places for individual grief and collective remembrance. The German War Graves Commission and young EVS volunteers from various European countries want to raise awareness of the dangers of extremist ideologies.

The German War Graves Commission is a charitable organisation. It was founded in 1919, one year after the end of the First World War. In 1954 it was commissioned by the German government with maintaining the war graves of German soldiers who died during the two world wars and the Franco–Prussian War of 1870/71.