Written by Velina Lilyanova,
Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are all candidates for EU membership, while Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Kosovo are potential candidates. To improve their chances of EU accession and secure their citizens a more prosperous future, one of the key priorities these countries need to address are the problems facing their youth, who hold the key to such a future.
Challenges – albeit of a different nature from one country to the next – confront young people across the entire region. Persistently high levels of youth unemployment are seen as a direct consequence of the region’s difficult economic context, but equally so of its outdated educational systems that fail to deliver to the needs of the labour market. Deeply entrenched regional stereotypes, a lack of awareness of other cultures, demographic changes and a youth ‘brain drain’ are some of the pieces that make up this complex regional puzzle.
Raising awareness about these challenges and the need for timely solutions is therefore crucial. The EU has been encouraging dialogue on the future of youth in the region through a number of projects and initiatives, including the Erasmus+ programme. In recent years, a series of conferences, including in the framework of the Berlin process, have given young people increased prominence, drawing attention to the difficulties they face and the opportunities they need to be given. The establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office in 2016 is a tangible development in this respect, seen as a positive step towards promoting dialogue, involving young people in joint activities and changing the regional narrative. Further crucial measures include modernising the educational systems, promoting mobility and exchanges both within the region and with the EU, and encouraging youth entrepreneurial skills and active youth participation in civil society.
Read this briefing on ‘Youth challenges and opportunities in the Western Balkans‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.