For the very first time, the AER-Eurodyssey programme was featured in the European Week of Regions and Cities in partnership with the Public Employment Service of Catalonia – SOC (es), Bureau International Jeunesse – Wallonia (be), Varazdin County (hr), Brussels Public Employment Service – Actiris (be) and the Sardinian Agency for Active Labour Policies – ASPAL (it).
A celebratory event marking 35 years of Eurodyssey
The Eurodyssey virtual lab Eurodyssey35: Regions on the move (14/10/2020), moderated by Hrvoje Kovaç, Chair of the AER Subcommittee on Youth, was joined by two inspiring panellists in the field of youth: Jovana Majstorovic, Board Member of the European Youth Forum, and Floor Van Houdt, Head of Unit for Youth policy and Volunteer Solidarity at the European Commission’s DG for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture.
Kicking-off the discussion, Hrvoje Kovaç set out that mobility is at the core of European integration and that the AER has been actively promoting this principle through its flagship #Eurodyssey traineeship programme for over 35 years. Since its inception in 1985, this scheme has allowed over 10,000 people to benefit from work placements. Following these introductory remarks, the teaser of the Eurodyssey 35th Anniversary video was premiered.
Hrvoje Kovaç subsequently invited a round of questions from Slido addressed both to the speakers and the audience; challenging them to dig into the links between learning, mobility, social inclusion, active citizenship and territorial cohesion.
Mobility in times of COVID-19
Jovana Majstorovic, European Youth Forum, drew attention to the negative impact of COVID-19 on youth development, noting outcomes such as high unemployment, precarious work conditions, lack of access to social protection, restrictions on mobility and deteriorating mental health among young people.
Floor Van Houdt added that the Commission’s immediate concern when COVID-19 broke out was the young people on mobility programmes abroad who ended up stuck in another country. The first measure the Commission took was to cover administrative costs for affected organisations and participants by activating force majeure clauses. In spite of the crisis, she noted that young people refused to end their participation in these programmes; choosing instead to adapt to the situation and lead from the front. For instance, the vast majority of the European Solidarity Corps projects were transformed into emergency initiatives led by young people to deliver medical equipment, help the elderly or assist school teachers.
What can be done at the regional level to encourage youth participation and inclusive mobility?
Floor Van Houdt called upon regional and local authorities to fully exploit large European funds (e.g. European Social Fund) and the Reinforced Youth Guarantee which are concrete instruments to help young people access the labour market. In addition, Floor mentioned the “Europe goes local” project carried out by the Erasmus+ National Agencies, which provides specific tools to municipalities to support youth work and co-management structures. The European Solidarity Corps is another good example of how young people can help themselves by helping others.
In her view, equality and inclusion can only be safeguarded through an ambitious, collective effort involving all stakeholders: the EU, the member states, regions, NGOs, youth associations and civil society. As for inclusive mobility, EU programmes have together with the national agencies developed diversity strategies with funding support to identify target groups and their needs when they engage with mobility schemes.
In this regard, Hrvoje pointed out that in order to tackle youth unemployment and other issues affecting young people, regions have a duty to make young people’s voices heard in decision-making processes.
Jovana explained that the European Youth Forum is focusing more and more on consolidating youth participation in regional public life. She welcomed the Reinforced Youth Guarantee as a key instrument to encourage youth autonomy in times of COVID-19, and urged the EU institutions to extend this funding to non-EU countries for better cohesion. Jovana stressed the importance of including youth-led associations, particularly those representing disadvantaged groups in regional policy-making. She noted the European Youth Capitals initiative as a best practice example of how to develop youth inclusion policies between local/regional authorities and young people.
According to Jovana, the COVID-19 crisis is leaving young people behind, while democratic norms are increasingly eroding. In this context, young people are falling into poverty and marginalisation, and COVID-19 cannot be an excuse to neglect their needs. On a more positive note, responding to a question from the moderator regarding the European Parliament’s resolution to ban unpaid internships, Jovana answered: “it is indeed a great victory and proves that youth participation has tangible outcomes and is vital to uphold youth rights”.
What are the benefits of learning mobility and volunteering?
As a former Erasmus participant, Floor Van Houdt strongly believes that any mobility or volunteering experience abroad is enriching in many different ways. Besides learning a new language, becoming immersed in a culture and becoming more tolerant, mobility encourages young people to acquire a set of personal and professional competencies that are in high demand from employers, such as autonomy, self-confidence and a sense of initiative. Additionally, exchange programmes of this kind make for better-informed citizens, and to the internationalisation of companies and organisations.
Jovana also shared her reflections on mobility programmes based on her personal experiences as a non-EU citizen. In her opinion, the opportunity to take part in a mobility programme abroad fosters intercultural sensitivity in young people, especially in the Balkan region where some long-standing prejudices remain. Thanks to these experiences, she became a strong advocate of inclusiveness and understanding in her community, which has been negatively influenced by a biased and politically motivated media. She underlined that volunteering significantly influences one’s personal development and brings people of different opinions and backgrounds together.
Hrvoje pointed out that mobility has an extraordinary potential to spread European active citizenship and, most importantly, to break down prejudices and preconceptions in a given community when it is introduced to foreign people, particularly in remote and rural areas. What is more, Eurodyssey proves that mobility schemes enable “brain-circulation”, as opposed to “brain-drain”, as it brings benefits to both the sending region and hosting regions.