As a member of EFIL’s European Pool of Representatives Rafael Sue represented EFIL in the “The EU-Western-Balkans Youth Forum” which took place in Trieste, Italy on 11-12 July. 

By Rafael Sue

The EU-Western-Balkans Youth Forum was organised a day before the actual “adult” Trieste Western-Balkan Summit; the idea was that Europe’s youth would meet and elaborate a few recommendations for the ministers meeting afterwards, regarding the integration of the Western-Balkan countries into the EU.

The conference started with a so-called networking lunch where the 60 participants, mainly stemming from the Balkan region, could get to know each other. Soon the opening of the conference was conducted by the rector of the University of Trieste, the Director for the Western Balkan from the Directorate-General Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations sent by the European Commission and the President of the European Youth Forum. After some welcoming and informing words the participants were split into their four working groups: “Mobility/Exchanges”, “Inclusion/Overcoming of Stereotypes”, “Entrepreneurship” and “Participation”. Each of these groups was supposed to work out three recommendations within a given time frame. This time frame was calculated very tightly, additionally the prevailing contradicting views and experiences made it difficult to come to a consensus within my group “Mobility/Exchanges”. Finally, our moderators decided to close the session and finalise our recommendations without us, due to the lack of time. In the evening, the conference’s participants and guests gathered for dinner. Short speeches were held, amongst others from MEP Fabio Massimo Castaldo, and the evening smoothly linked people from varying backgrounds with each other.

During the next day, the participant’s interaction was only asked at the end of each of the three panel discussions. In the first panel two rather local parliamentarians shared their story and beliefs with us. In the second panel, the role of youth networks in promoting youth mobility and making young people’s voice heard was discussed. Representing EFIL this was of course of interest for me. The three panellists came from RYCO, SALTO and the European Youth Forum and shared their views with the participants. My question, “What has to change in order to make Youth NGOs more effective?” was answered with recommendations for better structured and more sustainable financial programs that have to be developed by all youth NGOs and an increase of prudent networking that the NGOs have to conduct among themselves. The last panel of the conference proceeded to present a pilot program conducted by the Director for the Western Balkans of the DG for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations. The program, “The Young Civil Servants Scheme”, aimed to unite young professionals from the various Balkan states while they are young and was presented as a complete success. Then the last part of the program began and at first provided for a key note speech by the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations. After Johannes Hahn’s speech, the working group’s outcomes were presented. In order to further the EU integration of the Western Balkan states ideas such as an increased amount of exchange programs and cross-Balkan study programs were recommended, but nothing appeared to be truly original. The Undersecretary of State in the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policies followed up and concluded the conference with final emotional words. Luigi Bobba called the participants the “engines of integration”, and the “fathers and mothers of a more inclusive Europe”.

Summarising I can say, that I left my first conference with mixed feelings. On the one hand figures like Luigi Bobba truly motivated me to continue working with issues regarding the EU, on the other hand it felt like the conference could not always meet the goals it set out to meet. This is mostly due to the miniscule amount of time given to the working groups to actually create mutually accepted and smart recommendations.