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Brussels, 28 September 2009

EU Platform for Roma Inclusion (Brussels, 28 September 2009)

What is the EU platform for Roma inclusion?

The Platform is an open and flexible mechanism of governance 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 with a view to exchange experience and good practice. It aims at making the existing policy processes more coherent and prepares the ground for synergies. The Platform is not a formal body, but rather a process driven by participants. The EU Presidency (currently Sweden) 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 meeting is organised jointly by the Swedish Presidency of the EU (under the lead of the Swedish Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality) and the European Commission (under the lead of the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimír Špidla, and the Commissioner for Education and Culture, Jan Figel´).

All 27 EU Member States have been invited; invitations have also been sent to the six candidate countries and potential candidate countries. Civil society representatives include the Roma Education Fund, European Roma Policy Coalition, the Open Society Institute, the European Roma and Travellers Forum 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 Council of Europe, as well as a representative from the Decade for Roma Inclusion 2005-2015. Moreover, academic experts from universities, research institutions and NGOs will participate along with experts from the most relevant European Commission's services.

What are the main issues on the agenda?

The agenda will focus on the question of how the quality of education for Roma can be improved. The EU's newly adopted strategic framework "Education and Training 2020" plans, inter alia, cooperation of Member States on the promotion of equity, social cohesion and active citizenship. The debate will be opened by a presentation by Mihai Surdu (Roma Education Fund) and will focus in the first part on key problems of Roma in the education system. In the second part three model cases will be presented which are of overall interest for all EU Member States as well as candidate and potential candidate countries. The case studies comprise the Swedish policy on mainstreaming education, the Hungarian equal opportunities funding policy and a local project from Timisoara (Romania) on Roma women against segregation.

How do the Common Basic Principles relate to education?

The Common Basic Principles presented at the first meeting of the Platform in April 2009 and adopted as part of Council conclusions on 8 June 2009 include several references to the importance of education for Roma inclusion. Although education is generally a responsibility for national governments, the principles made clear it should be organised in a way which is:

  • pragmatic, constructive and non-discriminatory without being exclusive (in line with Common Basic Principles 1 and 2),

  • follows an intercultural approach aimed at integrating Roma into the mainstream of society, and taking the gender dimension into account (in line with Common Basic Principles 3, 4, and 5),

  • based on evidence and making effective use of EU legal and financial instruments (in line with Common Basic Principles 6 and 7),

  • built on the ownership of regional and local stakeholders and the Roma communities themselves (in line with Common Basic Principles 8, 9, and 10).

The final goal must be the inclusion of Roma into mainstream education and, thus, into mainstream society.

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 EU's Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law (Council documents 16771/07, 16771/07 COR 4, and 16351/1/08) prohibits the incitation of violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin. The Framework Decision is an important step to protect Roma at the national level against hate speech or violent attacks.

  • 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, of the Structural Funds and the other financial instruments available for Roma inclusion, 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 will shortly launch a pilot project dedicated to developing innovative and integrated approaches to tackling the multidimensional problems facing Roma communities (a call for proposals has just been published).

  • 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.

  • The EU, and in particular its Fundamental Rights Agency, is carrying out research on key questions linked to discrimination and violence against Roma as well as on specific problems, such as Roma housing and freedom of movement..

W hat will happen next?

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 ). This report will focus on the progress achieved since mid-2008.

The future Spanish EU Presidency and the European Commission will organise a 2nd European Roma Summit on 8 April 2010 in Córdoba to take up the different strands of action. 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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See also IP/09/1365

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