This policy paper addresses the evolving landscape of regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, focusing on the interplay between endogenous and exogenous factors that have shaped the region’s multilateral and bilateral agreements. The paper emphasizes the importance of “local ownership” within the economic and youth domains, collective problem-solving, and a common regional identity in the Western Balkans.

Examining initiatives within the Western Balkans, particularly the Open Balkans and Berlin Process, from the perspectives of youth engagement and economic considerations reveals elevated cooperation. These initiatives, featuring the active participation of high-ranking officials, serve as examples of elevated cooperation, thus elucidating their shared dedication to the promotion of integrated regional cooperation. However, domestic debates often overshadow their common goals.

Through 7 interviews and a targeted questionnaire with 162 respondents, the policy paper highlights the youth’s role and attitudes toward regional cooperation. The central challenge that demands attention is the absence of ownership within the economic and youth domains, which impedes the effectiveness of regional cooperation. Consequently, key recommendations emerge, including the need to promote Western Balkan cooperation on an equal and inclusive basis, recognize the essential role of public support for the long-term sustainability of regional initiatives, construct comprehensive roadmaps to enhance transparency and trust, expand the presence of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) to amplify their impact, bridge the gap between the Berlin Process and Open Balkans, and strengthen youth exchange programs to foster mutual understanding and collaboration while nurturing regional identity and integration. By implementing these recommendations, the Western Balkans can achieve more sustainable regional cooperation and empower youth to shape their region’s future.

This Advocacy Research Report is prepared by the Regional Cooperation Working Group of the Regional Youth Leadership Mobility Programme 2023 (RYLMP). The Regional Youth Leadership Mobility Program is a collaborative effort between the Center for Science and Innovation for Development (SCiDEV), the Center for Education Policy (CEP) in Serbia, and the Youth Educational Forum (YEF) in North Macedonia. This project is supported by the Open Society Foundation.


Regional cooperation agenda and its effectiveness: The role of local ownership in economic and youth domains.


Learn more about the Regional Youth Leadership Mobility Programme here.