Investing in tomorrow today

Shahira Amin
Wednesday 6 Feb 2019

Cooperation, education and development topped the agenda of concerns of youth gathered in Malta last month under the auspices of the Young ‎Mediterranean Voices Programme

‎“Youth is half the present and all the future. We should invest in youth ‎leaders, not for tomorrow, but today. Let us build the economy ‎together, not walls." ‎

These words came in an address by Malta's Foreign Minister ‎Carmelo Abela at a forum for 20 young leaders from 15 countries in ‎the EuroMed region, held in Malta in January. The week-long gathering ‎‎— the first in a series of such meetings to take place in Malta in the ‎coming year — offered the youth participants from the Young ‎Mediterranean Voices (YMV) Programme an opportunity to discuss ‎with decision-makers, policy issues affecting youth in the region. ‎

The YMV Programme was set up by the intercultural Anna Lindh ‎Foundation as a regional youth network connecting civil society and ‎policymakers "to develop the skills and opportunities for youth-led ‎debate" across the region and "support youth to speak up and be ‎heard," according to the Anna Lindh website. ‎
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The discussion at the seminar focused on the themes of youth ‎participation, education, migration and mobility, sustainable ‎development and clean energy — topics that were selected as priority ‎issues by the youth participants who presented their policy ‎recommendations on the chosen subjects to the 5+5 Ministerial Forum ‎held in Malta.

The 5+5 Ministerial meeting, jointly presided this year by ‎Malta and Algeria, is the oldest forum bringing countries from both sides ‎of the Mediterranean together to foster relations and identify new areas ‎for cooperation. Officially launched in Rome in 1990 as an informal sub-‎regional forum, the 5+5 Dialogue comprises Algeria, Libya, Morocco, ‎Tunisia, Mauritarnia, France, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain.‎

For the first time in its near 30-year history, the foreign ministers’ ‎agenda included an exchange of views with youth representatives. ‎Among the ideas put forward by the young participants were shared ‎responsibility for development and integration to tackle migration, ‎humanitarian visas, compulsory classes on citizenship, debating and ‎politics in schools, and microcredits for students who cannot afford to ‎pay for their education. ‎

‎"We are presenting the ideas of thousands of young people from the ‎member states with a focus on education, youth participation and ‎engagement, migration and mobility and finally sustainable ‎development. Youths represent about 60 percent of the population of ‎the region, yet their presence in the process of decision making is almost ‎zero.

"We want to be involved in designing, implementing and monitoring ‎policies related to our areas of concern," Manal Benani, a young doctor ‎from Algeria, told the gathered ministers.

A Tunisian female participant, ‎meanwhile, recounted how a young village student in her country ‎met his death while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe ‎after despairing at the lack of career prospects in his country. Dire ‎economic conditions are driving thousands of young Tunisians to ‎attempt to flee their country, she ‎lamented. In 2017 alone, 1,600 Tunisians, mostly from impoverished ‎and marginalised parts of the country, died at sea. Their deaths, however, ‎did not stop other Tunisians from trying to migrate in pursuit of a ‎brighter future in Europe. ‎

Another Tunisian said he was forced to leave his country after exposing ‎corruption among high-level officials. "My life was in danger so I had no ‎option but to leave," he told the seminar.‎

Participants from Morocco, Egypt, Libya and the occupied Palestinian ‎territories shared their concerns about stringent immigration policies ‎and tight border controls which they said were limiting their mobility. ‎Their European counterparts meanwhile, said they were surprised to ‎learn they had a lot in common with their southern neighbours. They ‎cited high youth unemployment and a desire to be more engaged in ‎decision-making as some of the challenges they were facing on both ‎sides of the Mediterranean. ‎

Paul Gillespie, a columnist with The Irish Times who attended the ‎Malta seminar, lauded the YMV Programme as "a progressive effort ‎to combat false stereotypes and prejudice, in the belief that lack of ‎knowledge of the other brings hatred." ‎

‎"Surveys show that people throughout the region value hospitality ‎and public engagement over forced migration or violence. These ‎young ideas deserve a much wider hearing," Gillespie wrote in an Op-‎ed published in the Irish Times.

Seeking to allay the youths' concerns, ‎Federica Mogherini, high representative of the EU for foreign ‎affairs and security policy and vice president of the EU ‎Commission, told 5+5 Ministerial meeting: "The young people ‎involved in the Young Med Voices are a source of inspiration. We are ‎already transforming their ideas into practice, including by widening ‎access to Erasmus+."

Indeed, in May last year, the EU Commission ‎announced that it was doubling its budget for the ‎Erasmus+ Programme to 30 billion Euros to support education, training, youth and sport ‎for the period 2021-2027. This means that the next phase of the ‎programme will provide learning and mobility opportunities to 12 ‎million people, compared to four million in the current phase. ‎

‎"We are determined to continue to work together to make the youths' ‎aspirations and their proposals a reality," Mogherini added. ‎

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