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Expired deadlines and complacent municipalities – this is how the implementation of the Law on youth participation and youth policies in North Macedonia can be described in brief.

Only 12% of the municipalities in North Macedonia have formed local youth councils, although they were obliged by law to do it by January 2021. Eleven municipalities established an office for the young, while most of the municipalities – 69% have met the legal obligation to appoint an officer for the young. Only 8 municipalities have established youth centers. The rest of the municipalities must establish such centers within next 2 years.

The young people and the youth organizations obviously aren’t a priority for the state institutions, taking into account that more than 2 years after the law was adopted, most of the planned mechanisms for young people’s participation and the services for the young still haven’t been implemented.

On the initiative of the Club for Youth Issues and Policies at the Parliament of the Republic of North Macedonia, in 2018 the process of creating a Law on the young started. It was the second attempt, back in 2011 a draft law on the young was penned, but later withdrawn. On the 14th of January 2020, the Parliament adopted the law, which is the first legal framework in North Macedonia that is guaranteeing the participation of the young in the society and recognizes the young and the forms of their organizing.

The Law on youth participation and youth policies stipulates establishing services for the young people i.e. mechanisms for rapprochement between the institutions and the young and enabling their growth and development. Therefore, the law stipulates opening offices for the young, youth centers, as well as officers for the young and local youth councils in the municipalities.

According to the Law dating from January 2020, in a period of one year after its enactment, the municipalities should have met several obligations, such as creation of local youth councils, opening offices for the young and designating Officers for the young. The deadline for these obligations was the 14th of January 2021 and today, a year and a half after the deadline, most of the municipalities still haven’t met their legal obligations. This is indicated in the Monitoring report on the implementation of the law on youth participation and youth policies, prepared by the National Youth Council of Macedonia.

 

A small number of offices for the young and youth centers

The report, evidencing the delayed implementation of the legal obligations, shows that a local strategy for the young so far was adopted by 14% of the municipalities.

The local strategy for the young people is a strategic document that serves, in accordance with the National Youth Strategy, to determine the mid-range goals and priorities for the development of youth policies and promotion of the interests of the young on a local level and organizational, financial, and administrative measures for their accomplishment. The National Youth Strategy represents a basis for the development of the municipality’s local youth policies within 5 from its adoption. Such strategies were adopted by 11 municipalities – Bogovinje, Veles, Gostivar, Ilinden, Kichevo, Kochani, Kriva Palanka, Krushevo, Lozovo, Strumica, and Chair. Only 6 municipalities came up with an action plan for the implementation.

According to the law, all municipalities are obliged to open an Office for the Young, representing a primary point of access for the young on a local level. The young people from that municipality through the office will able to get information about the issues related to young people.

But, despite the expiration of the deadline, an Office for the young was established by only 14% of municipalities in North Macedonia and one municipality just started this process. For most of the municipalities, there isn’t any announcement for opening such an office.

The situation with the youth centers is similar, and the municipalities have a deadline of 5 years after the adoption of the law to open them. Halfway through this period, only 8 municipalities have started youth centers.

The goal of the youth centers is to secure an appropriate and safe space where systematic support for the personal development of young people and for their active inclusion in the life of the community will be provided.

“The youth centers are locations where programs are being prepared and are implemented, that in turn will improve the young people’s well-being, the development of young people’s personal, social and professional life and information of great importance for the young and other aspects of young people’s lives is provided. The youth centers represent an opportunity for the local authorities to conclude partnerships with the entities of the youth organization that will be working in those municipalities with mission to provide access to quality programs for the youth development,” explains Filip Kulakov of the National Youth Council of Macedonia (NYCM).

The procedure for opening youth centers and securing their quality is additionally determined by a Rulebook for quality standards of the youth centers, which was published by the Agency for the young people and sports. As the municipalities which opened youth centers witnessed, the minimum necessary assets for the implementation of the annual program that the municipality should provide is MKD600,000.

“It is important to stress that only part of the municipalities meet the quality standards for the youth centers, such as the municipalities of Kavadarci, Kumanovo, Ohrid and Veles. The youth centers in the remaining municipalities are open with support from donors and had started functioning before the Law on youth participation and youth policies was adopted, and we expect that these municipalities will continue to invest in their functioning and to conclude a partnership with the entities of youth organization in order to implement high quality,” Kulakov says.

Local youth councils 

Even though the law stipulates establishing local youth councils in all 81 municipalities nationwide, this obligation, even after the deadline, was finished by only 11 municipalities – Valandovo, Delchevo, Kisela Voda, Kochani, Kratovo, Mogila, Novaci, Ohrid, Plasnica, Sveti Nikole and Strumica.

NYCM’s report notes that part of the municipalities that have formed a local youth council have additionally responded that they didn’t have a announce a public call for it, which is contrary to the legal steps for founding a local youth council.

The local youth councils that function work on their own promotion and introducing their work to the young people, as is the case with the local youth council in Ohrid.

“As the first generation of a local youth council which is working regularly, I would say that things are going well. The circumstances have forced us to postpone certain activities for later, but still, regardless of the obstacles that we came across, the young with their ideas and suggestions come first,” says Tea Petkoska of the Local youth council in Ohrid.

The youth council in this municipality has already started working on planned projects and the lack of events and activities in the winter period was identified as a major problem for the young in the city at Lake Ohrid.

“The main goal of this mandate is the opening of the Youth Cultural Center in Ohrid, because the young people need a place where they can spend their spare time full at cultural events.  This goal is already in the phase of accomplishment and the young will be able to enjoy the benefits that will be offered. The main problem that the young in Ohrid are facing is the lack of cultural events during the winter period. The young have no opportunity to develop on that level and mostly their everyday routines consist of repetition of the same activities, and that quickly turns into monotony,” Petkoska says.

In the east of the country, the biggest problem that the municipalities are facing is the mass emigration of the young, but also a great disinterest for involvement in the decision processes on the local level. As a result, the existing local youth councils are directed toward finding solutions for keeping the young home. Such is the example of the Local Youth Council in Delchevo which has organized several meetings with the young, at which they have collected proposals for the improvement of the living standards of the young in this municipality.

“The main problems that the young in Delchevo municipality, but also other smaller municipalities in the east have been facing, is their mass migration, the high unemployment rates, low wages and limited possibilities for career development. On the other hand, most of the young are disinterested in political and social events and occurrences and have no will for bigger participation in the decision-making processes on a local and national level,” said Milica Stojkovska, an Officer for the young in the Delchevo municipality.

Part of the Officers for the young aren’t even aware of their authorizations 

An exception to the insufficient implementation of the obligations imposed by the Law on youth participation is the appointment of an Officer for the young, an obligation that was met by 69% of the municipalities. But even here, over 30% of the municipalities have missed the deadline and still haven’t appointed an Officer for the young – a person that will be responsible for the Office for the young in the municipality and will be coordinating the issues in the interest of the young. It is obvious that the municipalities have shown the biggest interest in meeting this obligation which primarily consists of appointing an already employed person at the municipality.

Kulakov says that although some municipalities have met their legal obligations, the majority isn’t well acquainted with the Law on youth participation and youth policies and mostly don’t differentiate between a Youth center and Office for the young, and part of the officers were not aware of their role and authorizations.

Kulakov notices that the health and the financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 were regularly used as excuses for the delayed implementation of the Law on youth participation, thus showing that the young aren’t a priority to the authorities.

“It’s a fact that in the past two and a half years after the Law on youth participation and youth policies was adopted, was marked by health, financial and political crises that were regularly used as excuses for the delayed implementation of the law’s articles. With the delayed implementation of the Law, the institutions and the local authorities have missed the chance to really show that the young are a priority for them. In this period, the young became a priority only in the election promises, and the lack of implementation of the law only strengthened the young people’s stance that they are low on the agenda of the decision-makers,” considers Kulakov.

NYCM’s document stresses the need for urgent implementation of the Law on youth participation, especially at local level. Professionalization of the officers for the young is necessary in order to acquaint them with their authorizations and obligations and to provide stability of this office, instead of rotating the municipality employees.  NYCM recommends opening of public debates for amendments to the Law and promotion of the legal content based on learned lessons in the last 2 years.

The deadlines about part of the obligations that the municipalities have may have expired, but what remains is the hope and the given chance to the local authorities to show that the young are important societal actors, and to meet their legal obligations, even long after the deadlines.