International Online Conference: Young People, Migration and the Demographic Challenge in the Western Balkans, 28–30 October 2020

Executive Summary of the three -day online Conference

The German Federal Foreign Office partnering with the SÜDOSTEUROPA GESELLSCHAFT and Aspen Institute Germany in Berlin held a three-day online conference, addressing issues around young people, migration and the demographic challenge in the western Balkans. On the 28th of October the Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas made an opening speech, in his opening speech he mentioned that 70% of the young people from the Balkans Region want to move away from the Balkan Region based on seeking for better job opportunities in the European union states, including the Roma´s facing discrimination. He mentioned three steps to change these challenges.

  1. Invest in the future
  2. Put the ghost of the past in the past
  3. Making it an interest for the Balkan Countries to join the European Union.

The Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the Western Balkans Regions took part of a panel discussion, addressing the potential policy solutions to the current challenges within the Balkan regions. Numerous issues were discussed such as corruption and leak of better education and that more young people should be involved in the politics of their countries to combat change. In a panel discussion the perspective of the young people of the western Balkans was discussed. The panel of young people from the western Balkans were speaking about the major reasons why they leave the Balkans. Nepotism was one of the reasons that was mentioned, corrupted government, career advancements in other countries, no proper health insurance and poor quality of education. The young people complained about the visa restrictions within Europe, they mentioned the fact that they go and study abroad with the intention of coming back home, but it makes it difficult to stay connected with friends they meet abroad because of visa restrictions. The young people even suggested that the European Union and the Western Balkans should have joint programmes for young people. 43% of the population have expressed the urge to leave the Balkans region, that is almost half of the population. Issues around preventing this from happening were discussed such as:

  1. Political reforms
  2. Building a future as equals
  3. European Union needs to keep their promises to make the Balkan regions part of the European Union
  4. Security and certainty must be put into place for the Balkans to stay, trust each other
  5. More quality Jobs and Tackle unemployment issues.
  6. Creating better perspective with the Balkan Region
  7. Integration
  8. Engaging with the young people of the Balkans with regards to the issues they face within the Balkans Region
  9. The young people must be engaged and empowered within their countries.

Oliver Varhelyi the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement discussed potential policy solutions to current challenges and that they will be implemented within the next 4 to 5 years.

  1. Investment packages – transport, energy, environment, digital
  2. Regional common integration
  3. Skills- help the young people to acquire skills that will be beneficial to the regions.
  4. Good education Programmes for under 29 youth and internships starting from next year.

The member of the German Bundestag, President of the Southeast Europe Association Manuel Sarrazin said that the Southeast Europe Association offer opportunities to the south eastern Europeans, everyone who lives within Europe should be able to practice freedom of movement, that’s the core value of European Union. More issues where discussed with regards to why the young people leave the region. Young people want to leave in a decent country, have human rights and better quality of education and less corruption within the government. The European union is important to make young people not want to immigrate to other countries. Circulation Immigration is good because they bring their skills back into the region, and they are more politically engaged. Promote European union integration within the whole Europe. The western Balkans challenges are low salaries and don´t get paid and how private companies collapse because of poor governance. People must get politically involved for the future. Young people that are highly educated and more engaged into politics with alternative ideas are the ones that immigrate to other countries.

Main drivers of emigration 2019

  1. Unfavourable economic situation
  2. Better paid jobs abroad
  3. Inability to find a job
  4. Corruption
  5. Lack of the rule of law
  6. Lack of perspective
  7. Career advancements
  8. Family reasons
  9. Continuing education
  10. Misunderstanding of the lifestyle
  11. Unstable political situation

The Government can have data where the diaspora in the European counties so that programmes can be put in place. Labour Market integration introduce trade union within the western Balkans. Companies need people and people need jobs, fight against corruption and promote investments In the Balkan countries. While the governments in the Western Balkans can improve the situation using innovative policies, other institutions and society can also make a change into combating young people moving away from their home countries.