|The signing ceremony in Paris. Photo: Montenegrin goverment.|
Leaders of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia on Monday signed up to approve the establishment of the new Regional Youth Cooperation Office – an idea based on a reconciliation project to bring French and German youth closer together after World War II.
“Serbia was among the first to support this idea last year,” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told media after the signing ceremony at the Balkan Summit in Paris.
“We agreed that the office will be located in Tirana, and we decided to contribute 58 per cent of the budget,” he said.
There are already several inter-governmental initiatives among Balkan countries, but this is the first time that all the governments will cooperate as part of one institution that they jointly fund.
According to the agreement, the Regional Youth Cooperation Office will focus on projects connected to five issues – fostering cooperation, enhancing mobility, supporting reconciliation, building peace and stability and ensuring prosperity for young people from all over the Balkans.
“This office will be one of the key pillars of the stability in the region and this is just the start. Though dialogue, youth will overcome the problems we are now facing,” Serbian youth minister Vanja Udovicic told Belgrade-based news agency Tanjug.
The office’s annual budget will be two million euros, half of which will be funded by the five countries and half from donations. The countries’ relative contributions will be determined on the basis of their GDP and population.
The idea to initially establish the office came from the Youth Initiative for Human Rights NGO, which pioneered youth exchanges among former Yugoslav countries right after the 1990s wars.
“We dreamed about this for more than decade,” the YIHR said on its Facebook page after the signing.
The summit in Paris was part of the Berlin Process, a five-year initiative which started in 2014 and involves annual summits intended to underline commitment to EU enlargement in the Western Balkans region.
The focus of the initiative is on Balkan countries that are not yet EU members – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – with an emphasis on infrastructure projects, regional cooperation and youth.