Agosto 7, 2019

European Mobility Projects as a tool for conflict resolution


It has been years since the European Commission started improving its joint programmes for international mobility, cultural activism and social entrepreneurship addressing youth inside and outside European borders.

Within this context, 2011 was a milestone in the development of international relations within the Euro-Mediterranean area; not only for the uprising of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, but also for the implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy -ENP-, a policy governing the relations between EU and 16 of its closest eastern and southern neighbours, such as Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Launched in 2003 and reviewed in 2015, the ENP is based on the values of democracy, rule of law and respect of human rights. The main instrument of the ENP strategy are Bilateral Cooperation and joint economic and cultural strategies.

This article will focus on two emblematic cases of European external cooperation in Palestine and Cyprus – as witnessed by the “European Joint Strategy in support of Palestine 2017-2020 – Towards a democratic and accountable Palestinian State” and “Aid Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 389/2006- establishing an instrument of financial support for encouraging the development of the Turkish Cypriot community”- through which the European Union aims to gain significative results focusing on three priority sectors:

1) Governance Reform and Policy;
2) Rule of Law, Justice and Human Rights;
3) Sustainable Economic and Cultural Development.

Sustainable and Cultural Development allows the European foreign strategy to go beyond diplomatic agreements to include also international mobility projects aiming at improving the skills of civil society. While, for a European student, it could be easy to join mobility programmes, like the well-known Erasmus experience, it is more complex to ‘spread the message’ in difficult contexts, such as countries living social or cultural conflicts. While it is easy to pass exams in Madrid or to work as an intenr in Berlin, it is more difficult to work in enterprises in Amman, to study archaeology in Tbilisi or to follow academic seminars at Birzeith University in Ramallah.

Against this backdrop, the “EU REGULATION No 1288/2013 establishing ‘Erasmus+’: the Union programme for education, training, youth and sport” at CHAPTER III, Art.11,states that:

(A)“the Programme shall (…) improve the level of key competences and skills of young people, including those with fewer opportunities, as well as to promote active citizenship, intercultural dialogue, social inclusion and solidarity, in particular through increased learning mobility opportunities for young people active in youth work or youth organisations”, in order to (C) “ complement policy reforms at local, regional and national level (…) in particular through (…) the dissemination of good practices”, but moreover (D) “to enhance the international dimension of youth activities and the role of youth workers and organisations as support structures for young people in complementarity with the Union’s external action, in particular through the promotion of mobility and cooperation between the Union and partner-country stakeholders and international organisations and through targeted capacity-building in partner countries.”

Erasmus+ Programme ‘s three pillars (intercultural dialogue, dissemination of good practices, Union’s external action) have played an important role in the recent years, allowing project managers and facilitators to reach otherwise neglected areas.

Since 2015, there has been an exponential increase of youth workers and international youth organisations moving to areas under civil or military conflicts, especially in the Mediterranean region, with the aim to better understand the situation and the background conditions of hosting state.

The case of Erasmus Plus National Agency in Cyprus is on point. Since 1974, when Turkish forces invaded and occupied 15% of the island, Cyprus has been divided, de facto, into the Cypriot Republic, which controls two-thirds of the southern side of the island, and the occupied Turkish Republic of Cyprus in the northern third (note, all foreign governments and the United Nations recognise the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus over the whole island).

The E+ National Agency of Cyprus has spent long time improving KA2 mobility action (capacity-building projects in the field of youth that aim to recognize and improve youth work, non-formal learning and volunteering, link them to education systems and to support regional and transnational non-formal learning mobility schemes to encourage the participation of youth in society). These programs facilitate knowledge-transfer from young Cypriots to the European world, and they facilitate best practices dissemination through intercultural activities.

Meanwhile, many other projects have arisen in the island, thanks to multicultural dialogue and peace-building. The experience of Plan-Be NGO in Nicosia is one of the best representations of the ‘dissemination of good practices’ target of the EU Regulation 1288/2013. The Training Course “Re-Action – Take action in the society by connecting Human Rights and Sustainable Development” is a joint endeavour of 10 NGOs, representing Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Romania and Turkey (youth workers and youth with less opportunities). The project, which took place in Larnaca on November 2014, gave youth workers the opportunity to better grasp the Turkish perspective and to reach Nicosia -the divided Capital city- together with both Cypriot and Turkish participants. Here, the “green line” was not an expression of divisions, but rather a good example of peace building activity.

The Cypriot European strategy appears both hard and fascinating. However, there is another important and significative case in point, Palestine.

In Palestine, the civil situation is worsening, especially if we consider youth living under the Palestinian Authority: it is impossible to live in the West Bank; it is impossible to leave the country since residents there have just their Palestinian citizenship. A life under occupation and under ongoing military violence is a real problem for young students and whoever else tries to reach the western world, a place where it would be possible to have a normal life and advocate safely the cause of Palestine. Meanwhile, Palestine is also a big problem for UNRWA officers, international observers and human rights activists, which must face each day checkpoints and military interrogatories in order to carry on their work.

Within this context, the Erasmus Plus Programme operates in the occupied territories by using two powerful weapons: a) the Academic Joint Partnership, and b) the European Voluntary Service (since 2018 the so called European Solidarity Corps). However, the European Voluntary Service is the main tool of external youth cooperation. Now, if, for a young European, the EVS experience may be “boring”; for Palestinians, the same opportunity may be the only way to visit another country, speak another language.

The mutual sharing of experience between Europeans and Palestinians has reached important cultural and political results: the University of Siena launched the first Erasmus programme with the Islamic University of Gaza; at the same time, many young Palestinians are following Enterprise and Market traineeship in Milan, Berlin and Madrid, with the long term aim of improving the skills-pool of their own country.

Besides skills-transfer, as witnessed by the thousands of volunteers around the world, European mobility projects are weapons to fight social discrimination, cultural exclusion, hate speech and gender equality all over the world. For this reason, the three pillars of the Erasmus Plus Programme should be intended as a political manifesto, a pragmatic set of ideas for the resolutions of conflicts, another way to reach people and cultures beyond the western world.

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About Gabriele Mileti

Gabriele Mileti

Gabriel Mileti, Department of Law, Università del Salento. President of the cultural Association Alter-Azione and member of Youthmed; is an international activist in Jerusalem and West Bank-. With several certificates of attendance in international projects in Romania, Cyprus, Lebanon, Palestine, Poland, Hungary, Czeck Republic and Ecuador, in the fields of human rights, conflict resolution, non-formal education and fair-trade strategy. From June to September 2017 was Research assistant in the Department of History of International Law of the UAM-Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (Spain) in which he presented the results of his juridical research about the History of Israel’s Law, the colonial British heritage and the contemporary supranational challenges over the Arab-Israeli conflict. Today works with schools and Universities managing seminars and international intercultural exchanges, in order to spread the messages of Global Equalitarism and peaceful resolution of conflicts.

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