Ulrike Damyanovic

Western Balkans youth employment featured in Committee of the Regions' Enlargement Day

Focus on skills

To celebrate 2023 as the European Year of Skills, the recent European Committee of the Regions Enlargement Day, dedicated seven sub-events to the theme. One of them was the final morning session on 5 May, focussed on building up capacities in local communities. At this panel discussion, Ulrike Damyanovic – the ETF's Senior Human Capital Development Expert and Focal point for South Eastern Europe and Turkey – delivered a presentation on how the EU's Youth Guarantee Scheme (YGS) can help foster youth employment and skills development in local communities.

Creating opportunities for the young

Launched in 2013, the YGS is a commitment by all member states to ensure that all young people under the age of 30 receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, apprenticeship or traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education. Originally focussed on 15- to 24-year-olds, the YGS was reinforced in 2020 to include the 15 to 29 age range. Using tailored and individualised approaches, the YGS has created opportunities for millions of young people, and acted as a powerful driver for structural reforms and innovation.

Challenge for enlargement countries

The session in Brussels opened with a reference to the brain drain affecting enlargement countries, where the young and highly-qualified emigrate to earn higher wages in better-run countries elsewhere. Nikola Dobroslavic, co-chair of the Western Balkans Working Group, stressed that the solutions involve favouring the rapid economic development of under-developed regions, restructuring societies to achieve the quality of governance associated with advanced democracies. "In this process, a focus on young people and skills development is essential," he said.

The ETF's role

Presenting the ETF, Ulrike Damyanovic stressed how it works in partnership with a broad variety of stakeholders, in an atmosphere of mutual trust, synergy and complementarity. "Our partners in the enlargement region include ministries, civil society, NGOs, and regional organisations too," she said. The ETF's recent projects in the zone include analysing skills needs in the agro-food sector, analysing career guidance in the Western Balkans, helping educators rise to the challenge of innovative teaching and learning methods, and working with local chambers of commerce in a dual education system.

The YGS and enlargement

Addressing the YGS, Damyanovic described how EU neighbouring countries are beginning to sign up to the scheme. Piloted by North Macedonia in 2018, it is now being implemented in the Western Balkans, where governments committed to the scheme in 2021. "That's why I'm here today," she said. The topic of opportunities for young people is so important for all the enlargement countries that informal discussions on the YGS are already underway, even if no formal commitment has yet been made.

"I have one key message," said Damyanovic. "The YGS calls for cooperation at all levels: between educational institutions and private businesses; between local, regional and central governments; and with a broad range of youth organisations. So I'd like to leave you with a specific proposal: holding a separate seminar with all today's participants, to discuss how we can all develop the YGS together!"       


First launched in 2015, the Enlargement Day has become the Committee of the Region's flagship event on EU enlargement policy dialogue and capacity-building. Its raison d'être is the growing realisation – among EU institutions and partner countries alike – that it is not enough for a country joining the EU to prepare its central government and administration alone. Local and regional authorities also need to be fully prepared for accession, since 70% or more of EU legislation will have an impact on them.

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