Dear Minister Kushi,
Dear colleagues and friends,
Today is a very special day for Albania. 30 years ago, in the evening of 8 December 1990, the students of Tirana began protesting against the lack of electricity and heating. Rapidly they demanded wider political changes, forcing the Central Committee of the Communist Party to allow political pluralism. Their slogan, “we want Albania to be like Europe”, came to summarise the aspirations of an entire country.
I am very honoured to be addressing the students of the same university today on this 30th anniversary. As a tribute to the extraordinary contribution of your predecessors to the history of Albania, I would like to focus my remarks on the importance of youth in the process of European integration.
Europe was always dedicated to youth. Robert Schuman, whose Declaration launched the European project, believed that a “reconciled, united and strong Europe should be the priority of the younger generation”. Implementing Schuman’s vision has been the everyday task of the European Union in the last 60 years.
It is impossible not to mention Erasmus – the most popular EU programme, with more than 10 million young people having benefited from it.
Erasmus builds bridges between Member States and countries like Albania. In the last five years only, close to 5,000 Albanian students participated in mobility programmes under Erasmus and 2,000 foreign students came to Albania.
In the words of the Italian scholar, Umberto Eco, “Erasmus has created the first generation of young Europeans."
Erasmus enables the first-hand experience of what it feels to be European. In Tirana, like in Brussels, if we want to reach out to younger citizens, we must continue to turn Europe into something they can experience, something they can connect with.
That is why I have made youth one of the priorities of my mandate in Albania. We dedicated Europe Week 2019 to the “Power of Youth”. We created a Youth Focal Point in the Delegation. We increased the number of grants given to youth organisations and we made of Europe House a space of dialogue for young people.
But most importantly, all of our programmes and strategies are putting youth at their core. For instance, the €70 million programme that we are currently devising to help the social and economic recovery of Albania after COVID will be focused on:
employment opportunities for young people and
the establishment of a new employment scheme for young people.
The youth situation is a social emergency, with close to 40% wanting to leave. The answers have to be found in ambitious education strategies and long-term economic development. But we also urgently need to hear the call for inclusiveness and participation which is coming from the young generation.
Through many EU initiatives, we are trying to answer this call:
RYCO, the Regional Youth Cooperation Office, hosted in Tirana, is unique in promoting regional cooperation through youth exchanges and mobility.
Through the European Solidarity Corps youngsters, including Albanians, can volunteer in their own country or abroad, enhancing their skills and building experience that they will cherish for the rest of their lives.
We give grants to youth organisations in Albania to facilitate their involvement in EU accession process, in policy and legislative developments, and to become more familiar with the EU acquis.
Two weeks ago, we launched an ambitious regional programme called “EU and You” bringing together numerous initiatives and funding opportunities that improve the current and future lives of young people in the region and strengthen cooperation with the EU.
We also nominated and work closely with Young European Ambassadors who are building bridges between the EU and young people.
To get the EU integration of Albania right, we need the help and the voice of those who are the future Albanian citizens of the European Union: if you want to bring your country inside the EU, make it clear, make it heard and contribute through your engagement, commitment, studying and participation in society. Be the change you want to see!
The urgency that I see in the eyes of the young people I meet every day in this country is, I imagine, not dissimilar to that of December 1990. 30 years ago, just like today, young people can push governments, institutions, and each of us to act.
It is our duty to listen to them. It is our duty to empower them.
I wish you a happy National Youth Day and a successful conference.