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EU’s Eastern Partnership programme still neglects the interests of young people from Eastern Europe

European Students` Forum (AEGEE-Europe) has taken a leading role in creating an initiative to advance the mobility and the integration in Western educational exchange programmes of students and young adults from Eastern European countries. During the Stakeholders Meeting hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the civil society organization and youth representatives crossed their ties towards creating an informal network to develop strategies in order to improve the situation of youth from the 6 countries included in the Eastern Partnership programme of the European Commission.

European Students` Forum (AEGEE-Europe) welcomes the EU Eastern Partnership Initiative and firmly believes that it will help to consolidate democratic European values amongst eastern neighbors, enhance the cooperation and bring them closer to the European Union. To this end, to stress the dimension of engagement of youth as active citizens, who is facing nowadays mobility limitation and problems with access to educational systems in Western countries, there is a need to designe mobility programmes for them.

Manos Valasis, the President of AEGEE-Europe said that “Today, after 26 years of existence, we [AEGEE] are building bridges between 41 European countries and having established strong local branches in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia while having presence even in Belarus, we believe it’s high time to drop borders on mobility, to heal all wounds time has created in the Caucasus and to help strengthening the Active Citizenship movement.”

Klavdija Cernilogar, Head of Policy Development & Advocacy Department of European Youth Forum stressed that “the 6 Eastern Partnership countries are not an external area, they are our members.” She has elaborated that still significant challenges do exist in this area like the decreased mobility of young Eastern Europeans due to visa limitations. “This still makes it very hard for them to participate in youth exchanges and similar projects.” She stated that the European Youth Forum still sees difficulties in the networking, communication and knowledge exchange between youth associations in the East. A project group has been founded and shall inquire about the needs of young people in this area. In addition the Youth Work Development Fund will focus now on projects implemented in Belarus. She also added that “It is the best way to engage National Youth Councils, as they know the local needs the best!”.

Federic Varenne, Programme Manager, European Commission, DG EuropeAid Development and Cooperation presented the concept of a new regional programme aiming to support civil society organisations in the 6 Eastern Partnership countries. Currently data is being collected and the programme will aim to support civil society organisations through capacity building. Furthermore local initiatives will be supported as well. “We need a round table for stakeholders and we are currently working on it”. He also stated that “we need to work more on non-formal education”.

Christophe Leclercq, founder and publisher of EurActiv declared: “What surprises me is not the lack of initiatives on youth exchanges with Eastern Europe, but their great variety, and the low numbers achieved. This is impeding both the educational value, and the geopolitical impact, the support to democratic civil societies. We need a better marketing, notably bundling more resources around one or two flagship programmes. Possibly also labelling existing ones run by national and private organisations. This reminds me of the ERASMUS set-up stage, against a background of scepticism, during which AEGEE-Europe was instrumental. You are visionary on involving the East: keep it up!”

Michael Makowiecki, Communications Director of AEGEE-Europe, and chair of the meeting has concluded that “in times when young people from Western Europe have less and less time and motivation to be active in NGOs and be true active citizens, young people from Eastern Europe while having the strong will and motivation to contribute to the European society as volunteers and active citizens, they are being limited in their mobility and excluded from European educational exchange programs”. He stated the importance of a strong network working for the inclusion of young people from the Eastern Partnership countries.

AEGEE-Europe sees the importance of a strong network working for the inclusion of young people from the Eastern Partnership countries.

Press contact: Michael Makowiecki, Communications Director of AEGEE-Europe, michael.makowiecki@aegee.org, Phone: +32 2 246 0320