As introduced by Hans-Georg Wicke, Head of the NA Germany, 23rd March 2022
The first European youth programmes
In the beginning, at the end of the 1980s, there were meetings between interested stakeholders who wanted to create a Youth Programme that supported international youth projects. These meetings were quite ad-hoc, hosted in the different presidency countries, and built one after the other, helping to combine ideas and needs of the youth field.
The European Youth Programmes started concretely in 1989. At that time, there were quite a lot of pilot discussions about the set up of the programmes, hosted in different countries. With the birth of ‘Youth for Europe 3 Programme’ in 1995, there were many things to set up and develop, and the approach to these coordination meetings changed, with the EC in Brussels becoming the host. This was the beginning of the first official ‘National Agency meetings’. This meant that the EC chaired the meetings, set up the agenda, made the arrangements etc. Not everything the NA network wanted to discuss was on the agenda, and things were not always discussed in the way we would have liked. Out of this need were born some parallel informal meetings.
NA Network takes the initiative
When starting up a new international programme, there are many things to discuss, including operational and practical elements. The NA network felt that beside the official EC meetings in Brussels, there should be additional meetings to discuss things more in depth, which would have less of a political basis. The Benelux countries took the initiative to host the very first parallel informal NA Network meeting in the Netherlands - although this wasn’t received so well in the EC at the time - it created some strange feelings to have the official ‘National Agency Meeting’ hosted by the EC, and then a separate parallel one where other things were discussed and not everyone was included. This was changed.
Nowadays, these informal meetings take place every 6 months, and are transparently and openly delivered - any suspicions about hidden agendas have been overcome and left to the past. The EC are always invited to the whole meeting and do their best to attend the relevant parts as much as they can (even if during COVID times this wasn’t easy).
Co-ordination group (The "Co-Group")
In 1999, a Troika of three countries was set up as a coordinating body for the youth NA network as a whole. It was based around who had the EU presidency - the current host, the previous and the next future one. This was an important step for such a network, establishing a regularity of communication and interaction. It meant that the responsibility for co-ordinating the NA network’s informal (internal) approach was held by the Troika.
Over the next few years, it was felt that although this system had benefits and shared ownership and responsibilities, it led to some instabilities. So, in 2004 a "Co-ordination Group" was established. There is now a group of approximately 11 Heads of NAs who volunteer to steer, guide and support the NA network, representing its needs and concretising possibilities and next steps. Presidency countries are invited to join for at least a year, if possible longer. This means there is continuity and the group is independent from the changing presidency system.
It has meant that more and more NAs are in direct dialogue with the EC. There is now two-way communication on the implementation of the Programmes, and on the creation of new Programmes, through Business Meetings, Consultative Working groups, Bilateral Meetings and through the representative nature of the Co-group.
2014: Continue with Separate Youth Structures?
2014 was an important moment in the network’s history. With the establishment of the first Erasmus+ Programme, there was much discussion then about the relevancy and need to have a separate youth strand or Programme. Originally the proposed Programme encompassed all offers for young people, in all sectors of education, and youth was just one small part of it. In Athens in 2014, the youth NA network decided to continue with our informal support connection, as there are so many specificities of the sector: to implement the Programmes properly and have good support among us, an NA network that was youth specific was vital.
Developments in recent years
The National Agency network has changed a lot over the years. With the development of TCA (and NET), cooperation has broadened to be more than just the Business Meetings. Indeed, TCA cooperation has become an important cornerstone of the network of NAs. Cooperation between NAs has changed too, with a more strategic and longer-term focus, including elements such as SNACs (Strategic National Agency Cooperation projects) and long term cooperation working intensively on certain issues, like RAY (Research-based Analysis of Youth international projects).
An established international NA Network supporting Youth Programmes
In total, it has been a journey of over 30 years of change and development for the National Agency network for Youth Programmes. The emphasis on collaboration, cooperation, sharing practice and building something together can be seen through the history of this network, its activities and the impact and outcomes it has had.
The next steps for the network include a longer term strategic cooperation, based around shared values and .....[to complete with overview of Lorraine's input]