The European Federation for Intercultural Learning participated in the Western Balkans Youth Conference, held on the 4 July 2016 in Paris, and was represented by the member of the Pool of Representatives Stefan Ubiparipović (AFS Serbia), and the member of the Pool of Trainers Filipa Lagoa (AFS Portugal).

Filipa and Stefan (greets for Alexandra Ruivo Cordeiro))

The “Connecting Youth“ Conference gathered representatives of the European Commission and the Ministers of Youth from the Western Balkans together with more than 200 young people from various civil society organisations from both the Western Balkans region and the EU Member States. This was an opportunity to exchange ideas, opinions and to discuss burning issues influencing youth lives such as unemployment, education, media, engagement and participation.

Furthermore, the Conference was organised by the European Commission and the Directorate General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations as a part of the process of enlargement of the European Union. The event was part of the Berlin Process, which started in 2014, where the European Union recognised the need to further include Western Balkans and reconnect this region with the rest of Europe and set in motion its European Integration. At a meeting in 2015 in Vienna, it was recognised that besides infrastructural projects and policy reforms there is an important role for young people in the process. This led to the meeting in Paris, where the leaders from the region established a Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) with headquarters in Tirana, Albania which will be an important pillar to foster values of peace, civil participation, reconciliation and the protection of human rights. RYCO is based on the existing Franco-German Youth Office (OFAJ) and will be a very important platform for EFIL and AFS in the future, because it will organise and support different projects for young people for the entire region as well as potentially organise youth exchanges.

Discussion with ministers of youth

At the conference, EFIL’s representatives participated in the “Youth on the move, education on the move” working group which focused on education and mobility for young people and drafted recommendations which were forwarded to the Ministers of Youth present as well as to Prime Ministers which were having a formal meeting with the highest EU, French and German representatives. Many participants represented university students organisations and focused on exchanges between higher education institutions and students, but EFIL managed to explain the importance of quality exchanges and intercultural learning in secondary school education, thus this aspect was included in one of the three main recommendations which were forwarded to the decision makers.

This is a good sign for EFIL advocacy as we need to further work on raising awareness about the fact that people form their personalities and open their views at a young age and especially during exchanges and intercultural experiences. This is one of our main goals and values and we will continue to advocate for a more peaceful, mutually coexisting and understanding world.