Communicating the EU to young people

Posted on 25. September 2011

by Nevena Jovanovic

nevena-jovanovic-2011-2012-modifiedThe young people living in the former Communist countries of South Eastern Eu­rope, on a daily basis, can hear about “European practices” and “European standards” in different fields of public life, which are usually taken as measure of positive or at least favorable way of doing things. Regardless whether the state has reached its final phases (such as Croatia), or is making the first steps to the EU membership (such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, etc.), easily can be witnessed how profound effects it has not only on socio-political processes, but on political culture as well.

All the relevant politi­cal actors in these countries, some more reluctantly than others, admit that a future EU member­ship is “without any sustainable alternative” and that gains will greatly outnumber the losses. Promises of new horizons offered by the EU have been, undoubtedly so, a progressive force in SEE Countries.

Talking about how to communicate EU to the Youth, two very important questions come up. Firstly, are young people in South Eastern Europe aware of these “facts”? Secondly, how effective are the tools used to transmit the message and mainstream it into their everyday lives?

The Youth are considered as a part of the European population which has most to gain from the European integration process and, therefore, their attitudes towards the “European project” should be watched closely by decision makers. Logically, countries aiming to join the EU need certain solutions at the policy level to communicate the idea to youth in their countries in order for them to achieve full European citizenship in the future.

The practice has shown that for achieving a much needed equilibrium between direct governmental instruments (such as communication strategies) and indirect ones (such as mainstreaming European youth policy in national youth policy), only comprehensive and cross-sector, integrated approach to youth policy can meet the mark.

All the obstacles that appear on the way of successfully bringing EU closer to the Youth in SEE countries can be summarized in four particular issues. Firstly, the Youth are not recognized as a separate target group within each state’s EU com­munication strategy. Secondly, there is no compatibility of the themes and issues represented in the National Youth Ac­tion Plans with EU Strategy for Youth. Thirdly, there are a low quality and scope of programs which deal with EU issues within the formal education system and finally, the lack of regularity in research on young people’s attitude towards the EU, accession process and its influence on policies. This demonstrates necessity for diverse practices and different levels of institu­tional development for mainstreaming “EU themes” into everyday life of young people.

Some of the SEE countries have gone a considerable way towards the EU, and some of them have embarked upon it quite recently. But one thing is very much in common for all cases: very often the implementation of important policies (where existent) is one or at least two steps behind the institutional framework and the position which the country holds in the integration process. Considering the complexity of the EU accession process and scope of public intervention that goes along with it, the decision makers should put a strong effort in overcoming these obstacles.

Many people might say that this argument can be used practically always when talking about public policies: implementation often irreversibly changes plans and limits scope of expected intervention (and more importantly, desired outcomes and effects), much to the horror of policy makers. Although this is a valid argu­ment, when talking about policies that should prepare youth of SEE countries for membership in the EU, we may have to be careful before accepting it with­out critical evaluation. The most important reason is the practical consequences such attitude can produce. It may lead to a situation in which these countries enter the EU without the necessary critical mass of European citizens, able to draw benefits from its structures and policies and to contribute to its further devel­opment. In an association such as the EU, which is trying to find its own identity and meaning, such situation may not only be unfavorable, but also quite hurtful to the European project and to ‘Europeanization’ of the SEE alike.

Much work still remains for those countries which are already in the EU or awaiting accession if they want their youth to fully participate in the EU integration process. For those who are coming, there is much space for adjusting previous practices, amending and accelerating the process. To meet those ends, sharing mutual experiences, ideas and knowledge is crucial.