The high-level civil society conference on youth policy in the Western Balkans, hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), highlighted the key role of young people for the future of the region and called for their active involvement in policy-making.
The EESC's Western Balkans Civil Society High-Level Conference, dedicated to youth policy as an essential element for the future of the region and Europe, in close cooperation with the European Commission and the Regional Cooperation Council, took place on 16 September in Prague, under the auspices of the Czech Presidency.
Given the current geopolitical situation in Europe, the Western Balkans' integration into the EU has become a priority, with young people playing a key role in supporting EU accession negotiations and the enlargement process.
EESC president Christa Schweng, stressed
We need to send a clear message to our governments and all other stakeholders that our goal is to build a better future for the Western Balkans and to amplify the voice of young people from the region.
European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, stated in his video message
In these turbulent times, the Western Balkans have now more than ever before become a geostrategic priority for us. Our support is built around the EUR 30 billion investment package, which is the best way to accelerate integration into the EU and to offer an attractive future for the young generation in the region, because without young people, there is no future.
Deputy Minister for Government Affairs of the Czech Republic, Martin Dvořák affirmed the Czech EU Presidency's support for a credible EU enlargement process
It is very positive to see the strong involvement of civil society in our efforts to address the issue of youth policy in the Western Balkans effectively.
In the same spirit, Jaroslav Miller, Deputy Minister of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic, stated that one of the main goals of the Czech Presidency was to create and give participatory spaces to young people everywhere.
Our young people want to act as agents of change in order to ensure a better, more sustainable and more inclusive Europe, and have the enthusiasm and energy to succeed. Our job is to empower them to do so and provide them with systematic and sustainable support.
The Balkan Barometer of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) showed that 77% of young people in the region recognise the importance of regional cooperation to the region's political and economic stability and security and 50% of them agree that relations are better than a year ago. As Tanja Miščević, RCC's Deputy Secretary General put it,
This means we are doing the right thing. Youth is our most precious capital, adding that
Youth is an essential element of the region's present, but young people from the Western Balkans want to see their future in the EU.
Commenting on young people as a vital resource for development and an essential factor for peace and stability in the region, Jana Soukupová, Director of the Cabinet Department of the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation of the Czech Republic, as well as the founder of Youth, Speak Up! project and national representative of the European Youth Network (EDYN), said
I see the immense need for young people to move on from their past and focus on their shared future. Knowing civic and political pro-democratic young leaders across the Western Balkans countries, I can see how they are striving to develop "no hate" cooperation, despite the differences imposed on them by the previous generations.
The event developed further in discussions on the EU path of the Western Balkans, followed by three break-out sessions that tackled different aspects of youth policies in the Western Balkans aiming at human capital development and fighting youth unemployment. The conference participants also developed several scenarios regarding the possible contribution of young people to promoting regional cooperation and European integration. The conclusions of the conference will be sent to all relevant stakeholders, namely national authorities and European institutions.