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Part 2 - The EuroMed

Youth and the Mediterranean: Challenges and Opportunities

The youth programme exists to motivate young people to become key players in the development of their society while creating links with countries in the region and with European counterparts.
- Euro-Med Youth Programme

Sharing a common geographical and cultural space does not mean that the issues and realities affecting young people are similar. The demographical reality of youth is often totally different between the EU and Mediterranean countries, notwithstanding disparities among each of them, and so are the challenges that they face in their path to autonomy, self-fulfilment and citizenship.[16] One concrete example of this is how the definition of youth in the region varies from country to country, as well as within countries.[17]

The United Nations defines youth as composed of individuals between the ages of 15 and 24.[18] However, there is no clear definition of the term youth since it is considered as a phase of transition from childhood to adulthood, or when young people are in transition between a world of rather secure development to a world of choice and risk.[19] While age is a useful indicator, it is insufficient in terms of characterising the person's transition to adulthood – and it is because of this that finding a common definition of youth is not an easy task.[20]

According to the publication Youth in Europe. A Statistical Portrait, the European Union has identified around 96 million young people between the ages of 15 and 29 in 2007, accounting for less than 20 % of the population in the 27 EU states. This age range was used in the aforementioned publication for the following reasons: the lack of an agreed definition of youth and civic participation, voting age, age to run for elections, financial self-sufficiency and participation in higher education in the context of Europe.[21]

As the percentage of youth in world populations is dropping (including within the European Union) the Arab world is witnessing the opposite: where around 54% of the population is below the age of 25.[22] The number of children and youth is at an all-time high in the region; with a total of 192 million. The increase in the proportion of 15 to 24 year olds in the total population, referred to as the "youth bulge," combined with the rapid growth in the overall population, has resulted in a rapid increase in the number of young people in the region's modern history.

This poses challenges to governments, and places an immense strain on the entire infrastructure of the state, especially on educational services, which are already poor and declining in quality in some areas. This has led to greater dissatisfaction among the most volatile elements of society.[23] This demographic bulge is one of the reasons for the growing migration from Arab countries to European Union countries and the United States of America. It should also be taken into account that Europe is an attractive place for people coming from outside Europe and a large proportion of migrants are young people.[24] Migration from Mediterranean countries is particularly significant to the European Union countries and will probably remain so in the future. Studies show that the Arab Region is a source of millions of migrants. After declining in the 1990s, emigration from the Arab Region increased during the following decade, with Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians having the largest number of migrants; and France, Italy and Spain, as the major recipient countries for these migrants.[25]

With this development, significant and growing international attention is being paid to developing youth policies. As a result of the 'Year of Youth' initiative, actors in national youth policy strategies realised they could learn from each other to help create more cohesive and inclusive societies based on the active citizenship and participation of young people.

The European Union (EU) started its youth policy co-operation in 2001, complementing the youth programme that had been supporting youth projects for many years. The EU has adopted a new "Youth in the World" strategy, which aims to encourage active citizenship and cooperation. It enables young people to exchange ideas with policy makers and involves them in shaping the future of the EU. Between 2010 and 2018, the Member States and the European Commission aim to work co-operatively in the youth field across different sectors and policy areas that affect young people in Europe.[26]

Youth policies in the EuroMed region once meant a dichotomy of European (synonym of developed and rich youth policy) versus inexistent, poor or deficient youth policy (the image of Middle Eastern countries). While this stereotypical view carries elements of truth, the reality is much more complex and complicated within each region and country. Exploring on each other's realities is important in pursuing intercultural dialogue, an element that is of paramount importance in Euro-Mediterranean cooperation.[27] In this light, the League of Arab States and the youth partnership between the European Commission and the Council of Europe have been paying particular attention to youth policy co-operation in the broader Euro-Mediterranean context since 2005.[28] Both Euro-Mediterranean and Euro-Arab youth policy cooperation in the region are important in mainstreaming intercultural dialogue in youth policy, increasing the awareness of the benefits and needs of intercultural dialogue in the field of youth.[29]

As this process moves forward, challenges and opportunities arise. Young people in the Euro-Mediterranean region face common global problems that require multiple factors to be considered in attempts at their solution.[30] The young generation will have to be better equipped to face the economic, political and social challenges of their time. They continue to look for fresh ways to impart peace in their communities.