The European integration and enlargement have always been connected with the simple aspiration to bring fundamentally new basis of cooperation and interaction between states and people. Within this framework the ongoing policies of the European Union and Council of Europe in the Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Mediterranean region could be good examples of a unique policy making within the European continent. Usually the debates about European integration go around the challenges this process brings to the sovereignty of the European states, and particularly the criticism is aimed towards the fact that the countries involved in this process are delegating some of their powers and authorities to the Brussels or Strasbourg based institutions, thus directly losing control over several important policy spheres. The core of the idea of European integration and unity is the principle of diversity, which has always been seen by the experts and supporters of the European integration process as trigger of change and progress. In general the European integration could be viewed from the point of economic, political or legal cooperation developed between the European states with the aim to establish peace and stability, economic growth and sustainable development in Europe and abroad. After the big EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007, the European Commission has developed several big policies in the field of European neighborhood policy, integration and enlargement. Most notably, it has supported through the Eastern Partnership program the integration process of the post-soviet six states and developed differentiated policy in the Mediterranean region through the Euro-Mediterranean process. While dealing with its neighbors, the European Union mostly uses certain principles, the most notably the “more for more” principle, which envisages support to the external partners taking into consideration the progress which the partner countries have achieved, thus: the more they are investing – the more assistance they are getting from the European institutions.
EUROPEAN INTEGRATION AND AEGEE-EUROPE
The European integration naturally opens the way to the set of new partnerships in relevant policy spheres. At the same time the European economic integration boosts the political integration, which creates the necessity to share and respect the same fundamental values and identity. The EU’s policy towards the process of the European integration could be described as a multilateral interest in promoting good European experience and model of stability, cooperation, economic sustainable growth and cross-border cooperation. AEGEE-Europe has proclaimed in its “Statement of Principles” the belief that “while cherishing the diversity and respecting the character of our regions, we can find on the basis of our cultural and historical heritage the principles that unite us and guide us in our effort to strengthen the European conscience.” We strive for an open and integrated Europe, with a sense of common identity, defined and united by shared values, taking diversity as its source of strength. We share our faith in a Europe standing for liberty, democracy, and respect for human rights and the rule of law, and our will is to cooperate with the European institutions that promote these concepts, thus making our Pan-European Association a unique organisation which supports and promotes the further process of the European integration.
In this regard as an important check point could be considered the launch of the program by the European Commission, namely the Eastern Partnership, aimed to prospect to build and strengthen democracy, sustainable economic development, manage cross-border cooperation, assist to overcome the poverty and social inequalities in six post-soviet states. For AEGEE-Europe this program has vital importance bearing in mind the fact that our Association has more than 15 local representations/branches in the Eastern Partnership region. We highly support the further strengthening of these representations, assisting them to overcome the existing barriers of the youth mobility. We consider this point as one of the keys for implementing respective point of the Strategic Plan of AEGEE-Europe for 2011-2014, namely for successful implementation of the aims of the Focus Area #2 “Bridging Europe”.
Simultaneously, we keep in our focus and give special importance to the developments in the Mediterranean region and Arabic countries, which have started to take place after “Arab Spring”, particularly to the movements and processes fostering further democratization and promotion of human rights and youth mobility. Within the last years, we have supported the development of the sustainable dialogue and cooperation with the Mediterranean and Arab region and it has been one of the priorities of AEGEE-Europe. In our belief joint discussions on common youth policy priority issues, youth capacity building, youth networking and planning meetings related to the Euro-Arab cooperation and the international youth agenda may become a cornerstone for wider agenda of partnership and multilateral interaction.
Position of AEGEE-Europe/European Students’ Forum on EU Eastern Partnership Program
Being a Pan-European youth organisation with the aim to create unified Europe with no obstacles for young people living in different parts of the European continent, we highly welcome the launching of the EU EaP Program and all the progress achieved during the last 4 years.
As the Pan-European youth organisation we consider extremely important to raise awareness of youth on matters not only connected with the Eastern Partnership program, but also in general related to the matters of European integration and European neighborhood and enlargement policy. The young people should know about the EU neighboring countries, their political situation and cultural traditions, thus it may lead to better mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue within the European continent and in this regard we consider Eastern Partnership to be an ideal tool for implementing such activities.
In regard to our support of the ongoing program, in 2011 we established AEGEE Eastern Partnership Project, which currently works on the priority directions of the leading EU institutes and brings additional thematic impact to the actions of our organisation.
Recommendations of AEGEE-Europe/European Students’ Forum on EU Eastern Partnership Program
We call up the European Commission to ensure the open access for the EaP partners to the new generation of EU programs, especially programs supporting contacts between people, non-formal education and networking. We recommend the EU Representations/Delegations in the Eastern Partnership countries to launch the required promotional awareness raising campaigns for the youth and inform young people about their study, non-formal education and other possibilities in the EU given the frames of the upcoming “Erasmus+” Program. The promotion of the Program’s objectives and provision of the respective information to the interested youth NGOs could be the key to successful implementation of the Program’s long term aims.
We recommend the EU stakeholders to initiate the process of the establishment of the National Agencies in the Eastern Partnership states, which will assist in ensuring the proper and effective implementation of the EU funded youth programs, as well as will facilitate the existing complicated procedures and undoubtedly will provide necessary grounds for monitoring the process in general.
We find it extremely important to grant financial and technical support in planning and organising of events supporting the further deepening of multilateral relations between the local branches of the pan-European NGOs in the EU and EaP countries. We would like to state the special role of the non formal education (NFE), which may be considered as a good and proved method for implementing this strategy and fostering mutual understanding between the young people from the EU and EaP.
As one of the biggest pan-European youth organisations we would like to emphasize the special role of youth organisations and youth activists in the process of European integration of the EaP countries, thus we kindly recommend all the respective stakeholders to ensure broader participation and engagement of the youth organisations during the preparation of regular Eastern Partnership summits, intergovernmental platform meetings, ministerial meetings, civil society forum’s meetings, as well as in the drafting of national policies related to the European integration. Within this framework we suggest to extend the Structured Dialogue Youth to the ENPI Region.
We highly welcome all the progress in the Association Agreements negotiations done by the respective Easter Partnership countries. However we recommend the EaP countries governments to continue to put more efforts in the field of promotion of democracy, development of democratic institutions and put additional impact to ensure the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as fulfillment of the other political criterion in their countries. In this regard we call up the respective Authorities of the EaP countries to organise and implement fair and democratic elections on all levels (Presidential/Parliamentary/Local Self-Governance Bodies elections) which will exclude any possibility of politically oriented and/or criminal driven prosecutions and judicial trials. We recommend the Governments of the EaP Countries to avoid use of non-democratic inappropriate tools in the election campaigns, such as violation of the right of freedom, of speech, and assemblies.
We recommend the Governments of the EaP Countries negotiating with the EU for the Association Agreements also to arrange more systematic and sustainable public dialogue with the civil society representatives, including the youth organisations, and to clarify the exact outcomes of the envisaged agreements and their prospect. In our opinion it will highly boost also the level of the public debate in the respective country.
Recommendations of AEGEE-Europe/European Students’ Forum on Visa Facilitation Process in the Eastern Partnership Region
We call up the European Commission and all the EU member states to abolish Schengen visa fees for all categories of youth applicants and volunteers from the Eastern Partnership countries, involved in the non-governmental and particularly in pan-European youth NGOs. We call up the Embassies of the Schengen Area Countries located in the Eastern Partnership countries to pay extra attention while checking the visa applications of young people, volunteers and students who are invited or selected to participate to any project funded by the European Commission (Youth in Action, European Voluntary Service) or by the Council of Europe, or any youth project (conference, seminar, workshop, summer university, internship, consultation meeting and etc.) convened by the youth organisations or institutions, which have legal registration in the Schengen Area Countries. We highly advise to avoid the visa fee charging in these case, which will lead to strengthening of networking between the youth volunteers from the EU and EaP.
We highly encourage the European Commission and the Schengen Area Countries Authorities to develop certain and unified successful, tested model of online visa application schemes, and establish joint one-window mechanism for registering, applying, submitting and receiving Schengen visas.
We emphasize the importance of fast finalization and implementation of the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements between the EU and the EaP countries and call up the European Commission and the EU National Governments to ensure that visa facilitation and visa liberalization come into effect when the respective countries have met the stated criterion envisaged by the respective agreements and negotiations.
Position of AEGEE-Europe/European Students’ Forum on Euro-Mediterranean Partnership
We consider that the cooperation between the EU and the Euro-Mediterranean countries should be developed within the frames of promotion and strengthening of democratic values, such as democracy, respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, rule of law, gender and sexual equality, which are also the cornerstones of activities of our association.
We are highly concerned with the latest political developments in the Arab countries, particularly with the post developments of “Arab Spring” and ongoing political unrest. As an organization, which promotes peace and stability already for 28 years in European continent and abroad, we welcome and support the efforts of all local and international mediators, including the European Union, to establish sustainable peace and atmosphere of peaceful coexistence of various religious and ethnic groups. We strictly condemn any act of violence and brutality in the Arab World, which may lead to the further destabilization of the regional security.
We deeply support spreading of the idea of tolerance, mutual understanding and acceptance between different cultures and religions in the in Euro-Mediterranean region, in order to avoid conflicts and facilitate peace-building process.
In regard to our support of the ongoing EU programs, in October 2012 we established AEGEE EuroArab Project, which currently works on the priority directions of the leading EU institutions and is upholding a platform where young people from Europe and the Arab world share ideas, exchange values and provide direct experience of the current situations in Europe and Arab world and hereby tie the two regions closer together. This increased awareness and cooperation, in turn, catalyzes reduction of destructive phenomena such as racism, Islamofobia and antagonism that currently make it complicated for the Arabs and Europeans to coexist and cooperate in ways that benefit both parties.
Recommendations of AEGEE-Europe/European Students’ Forum on Euro-Mediterranean Partnership
We would like to call up the European Commission and National Governments of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Countries to undertake new constructive and concrete steps in regard of the problems with youth mobility in the Euro-Mediterranean region, and more specifically the visa issues that North African youth workers and volunteers are faced with.
We recommend the European institutions, foundations, universities, as well as our counterpart organisations to organise a higher number of youth gatherings from both regions in order to exchange experiences, ideas, best practices which may lead to development of joint initiatives. We consider that within the framework of the regional developments since 2011, there is a big necessity for evaluation of the existing and ongoing Euro-Mediterranean youth mobility & exchange programs and particularly a special comprehensive research/study on their real impact on the local youth should be initiated and done. We suggest implementing specific actions which may increase the range of the young people involved in the youth mobility & exchange programs implemented in the Euro-Mediterranean region.
We suggest the EU and CoE stakeholders to consider the possibility of supporting and assisting the youth NGOs of the Arab countries not only financially, but also through sharing expertise and knowledge in the youth work and cooperation spheres. The promotion of the best European practices, information and knowledge transfer, targeting the young people within and outside registered youth organisations or associations, student unions or youth councils could be considered as one of the crucial elements for implementation of the local high quality youth projects in the future.
We recommend the regional national authorities once again to re-examine already existing mechanisms for youth policy development and youth cooperation. In this regard, we find it extremely important for the local authorities to ensure that the youth voice and opinion is heard and respected while making policy decisions. We suggest enhancing the multilateral dialogue and cooperation among civil society organisations, state institutional partners and European institutions, aimed to the strengthening of the sustainable and permanent cooperation between European and Mediterranean and Arab youth organisations.
AEGEE / European Students’ Forum was established 28 years ago with the vision of creating a unified Europe, based on democracy and a respect for human rights, bringing together students with different cultural backgrounds. Today, AEGEE is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary youth organisation, which counts 40 countries, 200 cities and more than 13 000 members. AEGEE has participatory status in the activities of the Council of Europe, consultative status at the United Nations, operational status at UNESCO and is at the same time a member of the European Youth Forum. On various occasions Herman Van Rompuy, Jose Manuel Barroso, Martin Schulz, Stefan Fule, Catherine Ashton have expressed their support to the activities of the Organization and have given their patronage to several pan-European initiatives.