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September 30, 2016 | Friday

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EU Talks: RYCO establishment an opportunity for youth empowerment in Kosovo

The EU Information and Cultural Centre in Pristina organized an EU Talks panel discussion on empowering Kosovo’s youth through regional networking and public participation, particularly through the establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office, RYCO, on 15 September. Panelists included representatives from the Franco-German Youth Office, government institutions, civil society, youth organizations and the OSCE mission in Kosovo. During the event, Kosovo youth and other stakeholders of this regional initiative were briefed on opportunities for youth empowerment and participation as a result of RYCO’s establishment.

The Regional Youth Cooperation Office, RYCO, was launched in Paris in July, between six Western Balkans countries including Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo. Representatives from these six countries sat together at a table to discuss the main challenges faced by young people in the region, and to share their experiences and best practices while providing policy recommendations to decision makers. ‪RYCO aims to strengthen cooperation within the Western Balkans in conjunction with the European integration process in the region. Its mission is to support youth projects in the Western Balkans, focused on participation and activism; education and research; culture and sports and most importantly, to foster bilateral and multilateral cooperation with EU member states and open up new opportunities for youth, particularly: learning opportunities, travel opportunities, employment and networking. The regional office, headquartered  in Tirana, will begin operating  in January 2017 in cooperation with five local branches in other Western Balkans countries.

The highlight of the panel discussion was Frank Morawietz, Special Representative of the Franco-German Youth Office, who joined via Skype, highlighting key challenges in implementing the RYCO and an overview of new developments. He stressed the responsibility of the government, civil society and the coordination group to implement the agreement.

“Between the signature in Paris and the opening of RYCO during this period there is a Joint Coordination Team in the whole process consisting of the Foreign Ministry in Albania, three representatives of the Franco-German Youth Office supported by the French and German embassies,” said Morawietz. According to Morawietz, establishing RYCO is a huge task, requiring enthusiasm and ownership by the Western Balkans states, its society and the youth.

“What impact will RYCO have for youngsters in the Balkans and how challenging was it to include all states at one table?” asked moderator, Teuta Hoxha from YIHR Kosovo. The Paris summit stressed that all governments must show strong commitment, participation and contribution to the process taking into consideration RYCO’s regional character and the impact it will have on the Balkan youth. “The idea is not to make specific projects but to reach on a wide scale young people who are not involved in exchange programs like people in rural areas who didn’t have a chance so far to participate in these projects” said Morawietz, showing the all-inclusiveness of this initiative. The Franco-German experience allows RYCO representatives to learn from best practices and apply those to Kosovo’s case, said Morawietz, while encouraging cross-border cooperation and joint projects as a future reference for RYCO applications.

Another player in this important mission of establishing and functionalizing RYCO will be civil society, specifically youth organizations and youth networks, which were represented by Krenare Gashi, civil society representative for RYCO. Gashi informed the audience about the memorandum of understanding reached in Paris between the six Western Balkans countries, following a fact-finding mission attended by governmental bodies and civil society organizations that deal exclusively with youth. Gashi explained that the RYCO working group, of which she is a member, worked on concrete proposals for Western Balkans countries at the summit in Paris. “The fundamental idea of RYCO was to facilitate reconciliation between countries in conflict first of all, and then to expand to other projects of cooperation in the area of youth development,” said Gashi.

The Youth Initiative for Human Rights, YIHR, a regional youth organization with a presence in Kosovo, actively took part in RYCO’s establishment and facilitated the process on behalf of Kosovo’s youth.  “It is important that countries actively take part in this process,” said Teuta Hoxha, moderator and YIHR representative, “…and luckily the government of Kosovo is part of this process”.

What steps will Kosovo’s government undertake to continue its commitment to RYCO?

The government through the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, MCYS, is strongly committed to making this agreement fully effective, underlined the head of division for youth policy development at MCYS and a member of the RYCO working group, Vedat Jashari. Jashari spoke of the role of the government to ratify the decisions taken in Paris and its commitment to build good relations with neighboring countries and implement all the projects emerging from the Paris summit. The government has formulated a strategy for cooperation with civil society in strengthening democracy and creating a favorable climate for its development, said Jashari.

The working group members presented an all-inclusive list of eligible entities to receive funding from RYCO including; youth organizations, informal youth groups, educational institutions with exemption of party youth forums, religious organizations and entities like ministries, municipalities or any other government affiliated bodies due to conflict of interest.

The OSCE mission in Kosovo is also supporting the RYCO initiative. OSCE representative, Fani Farmaki, presented OSCE’s support to RYCO during this transitional period. “We realize that RYCO is an initiative and a project that needs first of all to be understood to be able to be used when fully functional,” said Farmaki. Farmaki spoke of the unique three-month apprenticeship programme by OSCE, targeting young people between 20 and 24 years old, implemented in co-operation with various ministries to involve young people in the strategic, planning and executive levels of decision and policy making institutions. The second edition of the OSCE Apprenticeship program already launched, and is a form of non-formal education utilizing on-the-job coaching that gives participants hands on experience and constant interaction with senior officials in the ministries. This experience, helps young university graduates understand decision-making and public policy procedures in the public or private sector, preparing them for their future careers.

According to the European Commission Progress Report 2015 for Kosovo, there was a notable increase in youth unemployment (55.9 per cent to 61.0 per cent). The percentage of young people (between 15-24), who are not employed, fell from 35.3 per cent in 2013 to 30.2 per cent in 2014. This implies some progress in youth engagement in the labor market and education or training sector in the recent period. This is assumed to be a result of greater efforts by the government and education organizations in fostering youth empowerment and their participation in public life, either through apprenticeship or exchange programs.

The audience members showed great interest in the discussion, especially in relation to RYCO and the opportunities it provides in the area of education and sports and how will it affect the inter-ethnic relations, defying prejudices in the post-conflict Balkans. Vjollca Dragusha, University of Pristina student, raised concerns about the lack of information regarding exchange programs and scholarship opportunities for students in remote areas of Kosovo and limited access to this grants by all young people. She stressed that institutional support should be aimed at informal grassroots initiatives by youth groups rather than just focus on formal youth organizations. The panel discussion confirmed the imminent need to address youth issues, specifically on empowerment and public participation through formal and informal mechanisms.

This EU Talks discussion was part of the EUICC two-month campaign on Youth Empowerment launched in August of this year.