Involvement of youth and civil society in the EU integration process of the Western Balkans is one of the key preconditions for efficient, just and inclusive democratic transition of the WB societies. We discussed the key FES and EU values in WB region as well as involvement of CSOs and young people in the decision-making process with Stine Klapper, Head of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Albania Office (FES Albania).
European Western Balkans: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung works in different part of the world on core ideas and values of social democracy like freedom, justice and solidarity. What is Albania and the region lacking the most – freedom, justice or solidarity?
Stine Klapper: This is an interesting question and I don’t think there is an answer to it. We base our work on these values, which means they are kind of a compass for us. You can relate your actions to these values, but it is difficult to measure what is lacking the most. More importantly, working for freedom, justice and solidarity is an ever-ongoing endeavour. Even though historically there have been many achievements, we see in many parts of the world, including this region, that we cannot take them for granted.
EWB: As FES works particularly with young people in Albania, what is your opinion on their readiness and preparation to a meaningful contribution in the EU accession process?
SK: There are many very committed and responsible young people in Albania that are not only enthusiastic about EU membership of their country but are also willing to contribute to a successful accession process. They know: the best perspective for their country is the European perspective. They will be the ones who will live in the EU member state of Albania one day. So many young people know that they are the group of the population who is affected most by success and failure of the European project. Their readiness and preparation to contribute is correspondingly strong. Yet, in general, the knowledge of what an accession really means, of the European processes and of the EU in general could be improved. It would be great if there was more discussion on these topics and on what role the country would play as a member of the community. We at FES hope that we can facilitate more and more of these discussions.
EWB: What are the common challenges that youth is facing in the Western Balkans region when it comes to the greater activism and involvement in decision making process? How is FES Albania contributing to the youth involvement in the decision-making process of Albania?
SK: Many young people have a perception that their voice doesn’t matter and that those in power do whatever they want anyways. But I believe it is very unfortunate if this perception leads to inactivity. Of course, it is true and not only a Western Balkans phenomenon that young people are not very much involved in decision-making processes. This is of course particularly problematic when youth is directly concerned, for example in youth policies but also in questions of education and employment and others.
Yet, there are more and more ways of involvement and the Albanian National Youth Congress (NYC), for example, has been very active and been able to work with policymakers, especially on municipal level. This is a great success and I am sure everyone involved is convinced that the results – such as local action plans and strategies – are much better than without youth input. We as FES are proud that we can support NYC in their great work. At the same time, formalized processes – as important as they are – are not the only avenue for engagement. Young people ought to be creative to find other ways, too, to be heard. I remember that being a student activist could be very frustrating but at the same time, I have never again experienced such a strong community and solidarity. Working together and showing solidarity are the main factors for changing this perception that things cannot be changed anyways.
EWB: How do you see Albanian CSOs in the process of EU integration? What do you consider as main challenges of the CSOs in this process?
SK: Civil society is crucial for a sustainable process of EU integration. They are needed at all stages – in preparing and realizing the harmonization with the Acquis, all the reforms this requires and to guarantee sufficient support for these reforms. Their expertise is essential and at the same time they need to be some kind of a watchdog checking if the reforms are conducted as needed. We see many CSO ready to take over the responsibilities. Yet, there is still a lack of knowledge about the processes and a lack of capacities, but I am sure there is a great interest to close these gaps.
EWB: What are the greatest strengths of CSOs that could be used in EU integration process of Albania and do you think that the Government is doing enough to create enabling environment for CSOs to realize their strengths and potentials?
SK: There are many CSOs that have been demanding changes for years now that are very much in line with the European values and the conditionalities of the accession process. This remains true even though we don’t know exactly at the moment how a potentially revised mechanism would look like. So, the CSOs can very much align their work for stronger democratic processes and for rule of law, for example, with the integration process. They also have a correspondingly high expertise in the issue area they work in which can be an important contribution to the accession process. For a successful and sustainable process, it would be therefore important for the government to guarantee the inclusion of CSOs and to support their engagement actively.
This interview is conducted in the framework of the EU-funded project “Applying Sector Approach to Civil Society Contribution in EU Integration of Albania” implemented by Cooperation and Development Institute in partnership with Centre for Contemporary Politics and Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are not reflecting those of the supporting institutions.