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Brussels, 24 April 2009

EU Platform for Roma Inclusion (Prague, 24 April 2009)

What is the EU platform for Roma inclusion?

The platform is an open and flexible environment organised by the Commission and the EU Presidency at the request of the Council in which key actors – EU institutions, national governments, international organisations, NGOs and experts – can interact and formulate strategic advice for decision-makers on the effective inclusion of Roma aspects into European and national policies. It is not a formal body, but rather a process driven by participants. The EU Presidency (currently the Czech Republic) plays a particularly important role as the link to national governments and to the Council of the EU.

Who is organising the launch of the EU platform and who will participate?

The launch event is organised jointly by the Czech Presidency of the EU (under the lead of the Minister for Human Rights and National Minorities, Michael Kocáb) and the European Commission (under the lead of the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimír Špidla).

The three Member States which hold the current and the next two presidencies of the EU Council (Czech Republic, Sweden, and Spain) will participate, as well as the governments of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Serbia (as current presidency of the Decade for Roma Inclusion 2005-2015). Civil society representatives include the European Roma Policy Coalition and the Network of European Foundations. International organisations attending include the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the World Bank, the UN Development Programme, the World Health Organisation, as well as representatives from the Decade for Roma Inclusion 2005-2015.

What are the main issues on the agenda?

Minister Kocáb and Commissioner Špidla will focus on the overall strategic approach towards Roma inclusion at Community level. The Czech Presidency will address inter alia which common basic principles are appropriate to effectively address the inclusion of Roma.

In addition, the European Commission will outline how it plans to target the needs of Roma people via EU instruments and policies in 2009 and 2010. It will report too on the implementation of a EUR 5 million pilot project which the European Parliament has included in the 2009 Budget.

The EU Fundamental Rights Agency will present its recent EU-MIDIS (European Union Minorities Discrimination Survey) survey which deals with Roma and provides new data and informs policy making.

What are the Common Basic Principles which the Czech Presidency will propose?

The Czech Presidency proposal advocates 10 principles which have to be taken into account when drawing up effective policies for Roma inclusion. They advocate inter alia constructive, pragmatic and non-discriminatory policies as well as a targeted approach. They underline that the final goal must be the inclusion of Roma into mainstream society and that the gender dimension of policies has to be considered properly. An important part of the principles refers to the key factors for success and refer to the use of existing Community instruments, the involvement of local actors and the participation of Roma themselves in the design and implementation of policies.

What are the main challenges for Roma in the EU?

The main message is clear: there is a need for policies which facilitate access of Roma people to mainstream education, employment and housing. By contrast, policies which tend to aggravate or continue social exclusion and persistent segregation of the Roma should be scrupulously avoided.

The Commission's July 2008 report described the situation of the Roma as characterised by persistent discrimination – both at individual and institutional level – and far-reaching social exclusion.

The problem is a complex one that requires a complex response. There is no quick-fix solution and all aspects of the question need to be taken into consideration.

Will the EU Platform work towards a new European Roma policy?

No, this is not about a one-size-fits-all European Roma policy. Many of the key areas for Roma inclusion – education, employment, social inclusion, health services or the infrastructure and urban planning – are mainly or entirely national responsibilities. Therefore, the Commission is committed to supporting Member States in implementing policies to improve the situation of Roma. This coordination of national policies supports benchmarking and mutual learning and considerable resources in the framework of the EU Structural Funds can be mobilised to implement these policies. Also, the European Commission is determined to act where it has the competence, in particular by ensuring that the legislation already in force (the Race Equality Directive) is properly applied.

What has the EU done so far to improve the situation of Roma?

The EU has for some years taken action in four key areas: rights, policies, financial support and awareness-raising. In particular,

  • Roma are fully covered by EU legislation which prohibits discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin in employment, social protection and education as well as access to goods and services, including housing.
  • The coordination of Member States' policies on education, employment and social inclusion provides for a framework for mutual learning and the identification of good practice.
  • The European Social Fund is a powerful tool to improve the employability of Roma and can be mobilised for a broad range of actions, such as tailor-made vocational training. During the last programming period 2000-2006, some EUR 275 million were devoted to projects specifically targeted at Roma. During the same time approximately EUR 1 billion was spent on measures targeted at vulnerable groups, including the Roma.
  • The Commission also organises an internship scheme for young Roma graduates in partnership with the Open Society Institute. 10 young Roma join the Commission for five months to work as trainees twice a year.

What will happen next?

The Prague meeting of the platform will focus mainly on the initiatives of the Czech Government regarding the inclusion of Roma at national level as well as in the context of their Presidency agenda. It will also discuss the different initiatives to be undertaken by the European Commission in 2009 and 2010. In this way, it aims to encourage other key actors to develop their own, complementary initiatives. The European Commission will produce by the beginning of 2010 a report representing a follow-up of its analysis of Community instruments and policies for Roma inclusion; see IP/08/1072).

The future Spanish EU Presidency and the European Commission will organise a 2nd EU Roma Summit on 8 April 2010 in Córdoba to take up the different strands of action and develop a strategy for the next two years. The first Roma Summit took place in Brussels on 16 September 2008 – see IP/08/1326 end MEMO/08/559.

How many Roma are living in the EU?

There is no precise figure available, as the number of Roma in the European Union is subject to much speculation and the data most often quoted is based on estimates. This reflects the sensitivity of collecting data on ethnic populations in a number of Member States.

However, it is clear that the Roma population numbers millions of people and that the number of Roma in the European Union has increased considerably with the accession of the 12 new Member States.

Whom do we mean by "Roma"?

The term "Roma" is used as an umbrella term including groups of people who share more or less similar cultural characteristics and a history of persistent marginalisation in European societies, such as the Roma, Sinti, Travellers, Ashkali, and Kalé etc.

The European Commission is aware of the recurrent debate regarding the use of the term Roma, and it has no intention to "assimilate" the members of these other groups to the Roma themselves in cultural terms. Nonetheless, it considers the use of "Roma" as an umbrella term practical and justifiable within the context of a policy document which is dealing above all with issues of social exclusion and discrimination, not with specific issues of cultural identity.

See also IP/09/635.

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