Bojana Zimonjić, Main Chair, ESN International Committee for Education
With current high youth unemployment rate and facing a challenge of matching the academic offer to the needs of the market, EU has set to create closer links between formal education, non-formal and informal learning. Additionally, in the rise of extremism and intolerance in Europe, it has become increasingly important to foster social and civic competences and encouraging active citizenship in youth, therefore, a strong emphasis has been put on the on the youth work and youth participation.
At European level, there are several existing possibilities offered by the EU programmes in the field education, culture, youth, languages, and sport. One of those programmes, available for the Western Balkans countries is the Erasmus+ Programme. Erasmus+ is the successor of the Erasmus Programme, that was available for the WB countries in the means of a special programme called Tempus. Recognising the importance international mobility has in creating active citizenship, fostering cultural awareness and intercultural understanding and its links to higher employment prospects, EU has set its goal of having at least 20% of higher education graduates mobile by 2020. Erasmus+ with its budget of €14.7 billion will provide opportunities for over 4 million Europeans to study, train gain experience, and volunteers abroad. As we mentioned the Erasmus+ is available for the Western Balkans countries. All of them, except Macedonia, have Erasmus+ Partner Country status. Currently, only Macedonia has a status of Erasmus+ Programme country, and as such, it can fully participate in the Erasmus+ Programme. The rest of the WB countries are Partner countries, which means that they are excluded from some parts of the Programme, such as Erasmus+ traineeships, but still can participate in the majority of its parts. Last year, over 3 500 students and staff have acquired scholarships from the Western Balkans to the EU and over 2 000 students and staff travelled from the EU to the Western Balkans.
Through Erasmus+, besides the individual mobility, Western Balkans based organisations can additionally participate in the European Voluntary Service, youth exchanges, training and networking of youth workers, Strategic Partnerships, development and transfer of innovative practices in youth work, and meetings between young people and decision-makers in the field of youth. Last year around 18 500 young people and youth workers from the Erasmus+ Programme Countries have been involved in these activities. More than 4 000 of these participants were from the Western Balkans, with two-thirds of all participants being young people and one third youth workers.
Additionally, under the auspices of European Commission, a SALTO-YOUTH South East Europe (SEE) Resource Centre was established. It aim is to facilitate and promote youth cooperation with the Western Balkans countries by offering support to projects organisers with the training and information activities and the accreditation of European Voluntary Service host
Finally, with the aim of continuing the unique approach it has towards the WB region and having in mind Western Balkans unique history, culture and common challenges the Western Balkans countries face, EU has backed the establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) in the Western Balkans. The Regional Youth Cooperation Office, inspired by the Franco-German Youth Office aims to ”promote the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation between the youth in the region” through regionally owned exchange and mobility programmes, special programmes for socially marginalised and discriminated groups etc. RYCO has officially been launched, on the 4th of July, in Paris, during the Western Balkans Summit and has received a strong support from both the government officials and WB and EU youth present.
All of this initiative, especially the establishment of RYCO, together with the section dedicated to the Western Balkans on the European Youth Portal, that the European Commission has vouched to add, are a testament to EU determination and dedication to help the full integration of the WB youth in the EU youth dimension.