Working towards the firm, merit-based prospect of EU membership for countries in the Western Balkans is a geostrategic investment in a stable, strong and united Europe, based on common values. As such, current initiatives are targeting specific areas of interest for both the EU and the Western Balkans. These include strengthening the rule of law, reinforcing engagement on security and migration, enhancing support for socio-economic development, increasing transport and energy connectivity, initiatives for a digital agenda and supporting reconciliation and good neighbourly relations. The cooperation with Türkiye continues, following the policy dialogue with the European Commission.
Despite good economic recovery in the region, the labour market situation remains challenging, with a slow pace of job creation and joblessness remaining high, in particular among young people and women. Educational policy which responds to the demands of inclusive economies in the region remains an important priority, as does cooperation between vocational education and training (VET) and the private sector.
The ETF is working with the countries in the Western Balkans to modernise VET and skills. This work includes modernising qualifications and qualifications systems and progress has been achieved with the development and implementation of national qualification frameworks at different levels as well as the validation of informal and non-formal learning (VINFIL). Quality assurance is paramount, and all countries are looking to improve the quality of learning processes and provision, with the continuing professional development of vocational teachers and trainers. There has also been progress in developing work-based learning policies and in the introduction of entrepreneurial learning into curricula. Regular monitoring of these policies is necessary in view of the European Commission's communication in February 2018, which affirms this region as central to the EU’s Enlargement Policy, part of the larger strategy of strengthening the EU by 2025.
Demographic, economic, sectoral and technological changes are shaping demand-supply balance in the region. Skills development and employment policies need to keep pace with such dynamics. All the countries in the region need further support to enhance their institutional capacity and improve educational outcomes. The ETF continues implementing activities in the countries of the region and bringing stakeholders together for an exchange of experience and practice as well as for capacity building across the issues that are priorities for the whole region. This capacity building includes supporting ministries to improve the relevance of skills for the labour market and to ease young people’s transition to work.