To secure a more prosperous future for their citizens, Western Balkan governments need to address the problems encountered by young people, who hold the key to such a future. Sufficient and transparent budget allocations for youth policy development and the inclusion of young people in the EU accession process are a prerequisite for facilitating positive changes and improving the situation of young people in the region.
Adopted at the July plenary session, the EESC opinion on Youth Policy in the Western Balkans, as part of the Innovation Agenda for the Western Balkans highlights the common challenges and difficulties that young people are facing today across the Western Balkans (WBs), with high unemployment, a brain drain, insufficient education and a lack of skills at the top of the list.
Andrej Zorko, EESC member and co-rapporteur for the opinion, is calling on all six Western Balkan partners to align with key EU youth policy documents and to further invest in evidence-based youth policies addressing youth development challenges.
Developing national youth policies and enabling young people to participate in the design of these policies is of major importance, said Mr Zorko.
Strengthening EU programmes and regional structures of cooperation, with the aim of reaching more young people by providing them with opportunities for education, mobility and employment, has to be a main objective, stresses the EESC. For example, implementing the Economic and Investment Plan (EIP) for the WBs should be an opportunity to maximise the benefits for young people. Ionuţ Sibian, EESC member and rapporteur for the opinion, stresses the role of the EU institutions:
The EU institutions have to further support the WBs in improving youth participation, taking into account the positive correlation of educational and training mobility with the civic and political engagement of young people. He added:
The Youth Guarantee in the WBs should be implemented in partnership between Youth Guarantee providers and relevant stakeholders.
Involving the social partners and civil society organisations (CSOs) in order to deliver a broader reform to improve social rights and the prospects of young people in the WBs is crucial, added Andrej Zorko.
Turn the region into a place with future prospects
Young people have an unfavourable position on the region's labour markets, while the proportion of young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) for the 15-24 age group averages 23.7%. The high level of youth migration from the WBs, which has been a long-standing problem, stems in particular from young people's inability to access quality education, and the limited career opportunities open to them once a degree is obtained. Young people often have a strong desire to move abroad for a better future.
The level and relevance of education is key to young people's employment prospects, career development and social inclusion in the region. Current educational systems and curricula are in desperate need of reform and need to better connect with the needs of the labour market. The entrepreneurial capacities of young people should be encouraged and promoted, while the social infrastructure of the region needs to be further strengthened.
The EU Innovation Agenda for the WBs includes youth and, in that way, encourages WB governments to build up their youth policy framework and proceed to the necessary reforms to turn the place into a region with future prospects for young people. Although considerable progress has been made by the WB partners, further efforts are required from the WB governments to develop a fully functional youth system and harness the opportunities provided by the Innovation Agenda for the WBs and the Economic and Investment Plan.