For the past decade, the Young Bled Strategic Forum (Young BSF) has been bringing together young leaders, aged between 18 and 35 years, from all over the world to engage in lively discussion and develop innovative solutions to some of the most pressing global issues. During Young BSF, youth from the Western Balkans had the opportunity to discuss problems of the youth in the region, under the Western Balkans Youth Cooperation Platform (WBYCP), created in 2017. This platform aims to connect and empower youth organizations in the Western Balkans Six.
Through the five years of operation, WBYCP has created the first bottom-up youth cooperation platform, provided a systematic fora of communication and coordination, and empowered WB6 youth with the aim of reaching out and involving them in the regional policy-making process.
Announced in 2020, the Economic and Investment Plan (EIP) will support WB6 growth and reforms with EUR 30bn through six main themes and 10 flagship initiatives. While a part of it specifically targets youth, WB6 youth have a direct stake in the EIP. In the framework of the 10 Flagships of the EIP it is crucial to involve the perspective of youth, as a key beneficiary of all investments and projects implemented in the Balkans.
While Youth Guarantee – Flagship 10, directly deals with youth, the process of Flagship implementation mechanism is vague and not very comprehensive for youth CSO-s who should monitor this process and be an integral part of its implementation.
During the working sessions of YBSF coordinated by WBYCP partners, WBYCP invited youngsters to discuss youth perspective and practical involvement in sectoral policies, as well as relevant stakeholders related to EIP flagships, in order to review current events and prepare concrete recommendations on possible action to deconstruct youth involvement in those policies.
One of the key topics, during the two meetings held so far, were economy and youth employability.
Nikolina Radonjić, a participant from Montenegro, explains for EWB that a special focus has been put on the Youth guarantee, as it is one of the Flagships of the EIP.
“We also discussed topics such as Digital connectivity and Green Transformation as they are of particular importance in the challenging circumstances we live in”, says Radonjić.
She underlines that these meetings have great significance as they provide with a possibility to map the current challenges the youth in the region is facing.
„Particularly the obstacles which arose during the COVID-19 pandemic. Young people from the region also had the opportunity to discuss possible solutions to the current challenges. Besides mapping the problems, we saw that although we come from different countries, our problems are the same, such as youth unemployment or brain drain. In that way, being able to communicate not only with young people from the WB region, but as well with the young people who are citizens of EU countries, gave us insight into how they are dealing or how they have dealt with the challenges WB countries are facing at the moment“, Radonjić stresses.
Dafina Peci, one of the coordinators of the Young BSF, who participated in these sessions as well, says for European Western Balkans that the significance of these meetings stands chiefly on two main components: capacity building and networking.
„While young people are being lectured, trained, mentored or guided by high ranking professionals in their field of expertise, this brings a huge opportunity for them to acquire new information, increase capacities, formulate new ideas and become more conscious, all the while simultaneously turning them to process-oriented people. On the other hand, they also have the unique opportunity to create cross border cooperation and advocate resoundingly on a larger scale of decision making spheres, such as regional mechanisms and institutions, EU institutions or the UN“, says Peci.
What are the main challenges of youth in the region?
The economic position of the youth in the Western Balkans has been a continuing problem for years. Decent jobs, good education, and additional training are often sought by young people in the region and in developed European countries.
Nikolina Radonjić underlines that the main problems when it comes to the economic situation of youth in WB is unemployment, as well as the high percentage of young people who want to leave the WB countries where they are currently living.
“One more element, which is consequently influencing the economic situation of youth, is the discrepancy of the academic programs and courses which are being offered versus the knowledge and skills which the market field needs”, says Radonjić.
According to Dafina Peci, lack of coherence between the education system and the needs of the labour market, outdated labour laws and insufficient resources and poor trade policies harrow young people in the region.
As a result of these two-day working groups at the Young BSF, WBYCP/CDI compiled key recommendations with concrete actions of involving youth in sectoral policy-making processes.
“Recommendations are firstly brought to a common declaration, which serves as an agreed baseline for distribution to all relevant stakeholders, as well as a public statement for media and the society. On the other hand, youngsters, young leaders, and partners are encouraged to adopt these recommendations adjusting them to the local context and also inviting governing institutions to participate in a structured dialogue for joint action”, Nikolina Radonjić explains.
According to Radonjić, during the WBYCP session, the main solution, which were emphasized when it comes to the economic situation of youth in the WB, was facilitating Youth dialogue with the government, with a possibility of creating a digital tool for the consultation of youth.
“One of the solutions was giving more possibilities to the youth umbrella organizations to cooperate with the institutions as they can play a role in portraying the challenges the youth faces”, she noted.
“Strategically constructing connectivity infrastructure among countries within the EU and with EU potential members, in order to boost cooperation and mutual benefit in economical field. This connectivity plan must integrate youth as a prima beneficiary through a multi-sectoral perspective”, says Dafina Peci.
She added that in order to improve the biggest economic problems the youth in the WB countries faces, the legislation on labour law, incentivize a dialogue among civil society, institutions, and the business community for a renewed approach towards employability schemes and fighting brain drain are some of the recommendations.
She mentioned initiating sector-based youth growth careers, blue collar careers to bring youth close to sectoral policies and opportunities. In improving the situation, the EU can contribute through the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans.
Nikolina Radonjić underlined the importance of the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans.
“This Plan is of great significance for the whole region as it aims to support long-term economical recovery, as well as digital and green transformation and accelerating much-needed reforms in WB countries to facilitate them to follow the EU path. One out of the ten Flagships was discussed in detail during the WBYCP session, and it was the one directly dealing with young people. Youth Guarantee should assure young people that within four months of becoming unemployed or having finished formal education, they will receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, apprenticeship, or traineeship. Lesson learned from the North Macedonian case, as it was mentioned during the session, is that if the Youth Guarantee is to be efficient, there should be a strong cross-sectoral institutional priority, as well as cooperation between institutions and youth organizations”, concluded Nikolina Radonjić.