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Western Balkans Youth Forum 2022: Political elites must deliver on the European dream of WB youth

Photo: Western Balkans Youth Forum / Majda Balić

BERLIN — Young people in the Western Balkans want to join the EU, but the politicians and institutions from both sides need to deliver on their promises in order to fulfill this European dream of Western Balkans youth, was the main takeaway from the panel “Insieme, unite, unite Europe” held on 2 November as a part of the Western Balkans Youth Forum.

The third day of the Youth Forum in Berlin started with a reflection on what the European Union means for young people of the Western Balkans, as well as a discussion about the importance of the enlargement process in the context of the war in Ukraine. During the panel titled “Insieme, unite, unite Europe!” the panelists and the audience engaged in a lively discussion about the meaning of solidarity in today’s context and the need to keep the European dream of the youth in the Western Balkans alive. 

Jorg Wojahn, European Commission Representative to Germany, welcomed the participants to the European House in Berlin and reminded that this edition of the Berlin process is happening in a very eventful year — not just in the negative, but also in a positive sense, referring to the start of the accession negotiation process of Albania and North Macedonia. 

The message for uniting Europe was also conveyed by the title of the session — a line of lyrics from the 1990 Eurovision winner song, as moderator Nikola Burazer from European Western Balkans pointed out. 

Birgit Schmeitzner, European Commission Spokesperson in Germany, emphasized that today “we are witnessing multiple crisis in the world,” such as the crisis caused by the Russian aggression on Ukraine, the climate crisis and the crisis the COVID pandemic brought us. What is needed in the times of crisis is solidarity, and Schmeitzner said that joint sanctions against Russia are a good example of that, but she also agreed that “solidarity is a big task” and the EU “still has to improve.” 

She also reflected on the enlargement process in the Western Balkans and agreed with a comment from the audience that the burden doesn’t lie only on the EU, but on the candidate countries as well.

“It’s important that countries deliver on their share, which is the reason we are so intensively looking at the rule of law, minority rights and democracy. It helps to build a new, an even better European Union,” Schmeitzner explained. 

Spokesperson of the Federation of Young European Greens, Benedetta Scuderi, said that young people would like to see even more solidarity from the EU. She also expressed regret, as a pro-European young person, that it was the crisis that was apparently needed to make the European values stronger and that even within the EU, these values aren’t always being implemented.  

“The problem is that right now the EU is stuck in not being able to go from Europe of trade and money to Europe of values, human rights, democracy, solidarity and integration. If we don’t make this jump, we will not be able to apply solidarity in a concrete and sincere way,” Scuderi stated.

Panagiotis Chatzimichail, Board Member of the European Youth Forum, warned that “the EU shouldn’t be taken for granted” neither by its citizens nor its institutions, as he reflected on excitement and hopefulness he felt as a young person when Cyprus joined the EU. 

“Each generation sets new expectations and new goals for the European Union to achieve. It’s an everlasting, but also ever changing project. We’re at this stage now — with the reality we see and the risk to democracy that we see — to open up discussion for a new treaty,” as Chatzimichail pointed out.

Youth Representative of North Macedonia in the Governing Board of RYCO, Blazhen Maleski, talked about the positive perception of the European Union among young people in the Western Balkans, but that the slowness of this process might threaten this feeling of hopefulness. 

“All of these studies have shown that the young people are pro-EU, they want to be a part of the EU, they can’t wait to be in the EU… But on the long run, the delivery is slow and they start to feel doubt. They feel let down, like there is no actual change on the ground,” Maleski said and referred to the example of Kosovo visa liberalization.

He said that young people are also expecting changes in the terms of rule of law and environment among other things, so the questions the stakeholders should ask themselves is “Do we support young people enough to fight for necessary changes?”

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