Last year in December, I had the opportunity to participate in a regional forum in Novi Sad: "EU-Balkan Youth Forum 2023 | Western Balkans Futures: How can You(th) Shape Europe?". The forum was organized by the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) with the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. As the name suggests, the theme revolved around the integration of the Western Balkans into the European Union and the role of youth in this process. The forum aimed at young people from the Western Balkan countries and certain (mostly neighboring) EU member states.
Croatia was also part of this platform, and the organizers expected the participation of two individuals from Croatia, preferably engaged in youth activism, community work, volunteering, etc., and willing to enrich their knowledge and expand their network. Considering that I fit this description, I submitted my resume and motivational letter and eagerly awaited a response. Obviously, as I am writing this article, I was one of the fortunate ones selected and embarked on a new adventure, ready to gain new insights and friendships. My application was supported by YIHR, through which I learned about this event, so I owe this wonderful experience to them.
The forum lasted for three days, gathering around 40 young people from the region, with a total of 50 including organizers. The focus was on three areas: regional integration, environmental protection, and human capital. Participants were assigned to working groups, each dedicated to one of these areas, based on their profile, interests, and previous activism. I was assigned to the human capital theme, which primarily focused on migration and brain drain as the main issues in the Western Balkans (an issue relevant in neighboring countries, including my own). The first half of each day was dedicated to panels, while the second half involved working group sessions. On the first day, our working group addressed the theory of human capital in general – historical overview, global phenomenon, etc. On the second day, we narrowed down our focus to the Western Balkans region, discussing the issues and sharing our understanding of their consequences. The last day was dedicated to drawing conclusions that we would ultimately present to the "jury": representatives from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, representatives from the EU Delegation in Serbia, and a representative from the RCC.
RCC has been working on projects for a long time to promote cooperation among Western Balkan countries (such as the establishment of the Mini-Schengen) with the goal of meeting numerous EU standards, hoping that their countries will one day be accepted into the "club." However, in conversations with RCC members and young people from the Western Balkans, I sensed a level of impatience. Everyone is aware that their countries still have many criteria to meet and that entry into the Union is not happening anytime soon. The accession to the EU has become a promise that seems to be getting further away with each passing year rather than closer. I realized how fortunate I am in this regard because if Croatia had not "slipped through" in the last round of EU enlargement, which has now been more than a decade ago, it would likely be stuck in the same static line as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, and North Macedonia. This insight helped me not to take our membership for granted. If you're interested in what RCC does and the projects it carries out, I highly recommend checking their website: https://www.rcc.int/.
All in all, I got to know many ambitious and versatile peers: young delegates at the UN, members of various youth councils and environmental protection organizations, students, and activists, participants from the previous EU-Balkan Forum. I collaborated with them to achieve the forum's goals, engaged in discussions, exchanged experiences, but also had a thoroughly enjoyable time, laughed, and relaxed. They left an impression on me just as much (I hope) as I left on them, and I look forward to meeting them again on another occasion.
Photo taken from the RCC website.