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MEMO/11/216

Strasbourg, 5 April 2011

EU framework for national Roma strategies: Frequently asked questions

Who are the Roma?

There are around 10-12 million Roma people in Europe. They have been part of Europe for centuries and are integral to its society and economy, but frequently face prejudice, intolerance, discrimination and exclusion.

Reliable data are hard to come by, but estimates by the Council of Europe (see annex) show that almost all EU countries have Roma communities of varying sizes. They form a significant proportion of the population in Bulgaria (around 10%), Slovakia (9%), Romania (8%), Hungary (7%), Greece, the Czech Republic and Spain (all 1.5-2.5%).

Around a third of these live in the countries of the western Balkans, such as Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and in Turkey.

How do EU policies support Roma integration?

Many of the most important areas for improving Roma integration – such as education, employment, health and housing – are national or regional responsibilities. But the EU has an important role to play in coordinating action by Member States. It can support this with powerful policy and financial tools: European legislation against discrimination, policy coordination, common integration goals and structural funding.

EU legislation (the Race Equality Directive) obliges Member States to give equal access to ethnic minorities, such as the Roma, in education, housing, health and employment. Nevertheless, these rules need to be well implemented and applied in practice in order to offer effective protection to individuals, and if need be, access to justice in cases of discrimination.

Several EU funds are available to Member States to support national Roma inclusion policies, namely the European Social Fund (ESF), European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). The EU already co-finances projects for the Roma in sectors like education, employment, microfinance and equal opportunities (in particular equality between men and women).

What is the role of Member States?

Member States have the primary responsibility for Roma integration, because the key areas which are the biggest challenge for Roma inclusion remain mostly national responsibilities. These include access to quality education, to the job market, housing and essential services, and healthcare.

Policies in these fields are often handled by regional and local authorities, depending on the country. This means different levels of government have a joint responsibility for Roma inclusion and need to cooperate closely to achieve results.

For example, the EU makes funds available to support inclusion and employment of Roma, among other things, but Member States and regions are responsible for allocating and implementing funding for specific integration projects.

What are the main areas where Roma face exclusion?

In education, Roma children have lower attainments and often face discrimination and segregation in schooling. Although the situation differs between EU countries, a survey by the Open Society Institute in six EU countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia) found that only 42% of Roma children complete primary school, compared to an average of 97.5% for the general population across the EU as a whole.

This has a knock-on effect in the labour market, where young Roma are less well-equipped and less qualified to find a job. The Europe 2020 strategy sets a headline target of 75% of people in the EU aged 20-64 to be in employment, compared to a current rate of 68.8%. For Roma, the employment rate is significantly lower, with a gap of around 26 percentage points according to World Bank research covering Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Romania, and Serbia.

In health, Roma have a life expectancy of 10 years less than the average European and a child mortality rate that is significantly higher than the EU average of 4.3 per thousand births. United Nations Development Programme research in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic put Roma infant mortality rates there at 2-6 times higher than those for the general population, depending on the country. These outcomes reflect poorer living conditions, reduced access to quality healthcare and higher exposure to risks. There is also evidence that Roma communities are less well informed about health issues and can face discrimination in access to healthcare.

Roma also face significant gaps as compared to the average European in terms of access to housing and essential services. While between 72% and 100% of EU households are connected to a public water supply, the rate is much lower among Roma. Research by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency points to wider problems in accessing housing, both private and public. This in turn affects Roma health and broader integration prospects.

What are the benefits of better Roma integration?

Apart from better respect for the fundamental rights of a large number of EU citizens and greater social cohesion, better Roma integration holds out considerable economic benefits.

The Roma represent a growing share of the working age population, with an average age of 25 compared to the EU average of 40. Some 35.7% of Roma are under 15, compared to 15.7% of the EU population. Roma also form 1 in 5 new labour market entrants in Bulgaria and Romania.

According to a recent research by the World Bank1, full Roma integration in the labour market could bring economic benefits estimated to be around € 0.5 billion annually for some countries.

How will this strategy framework help the Roma?

The EU framework develops a targeted approach for a more effective response to Roma exclusion by setting EU-wide goals for integrating Roma, in education, employment, health and housing.

It will make a tangible difference to Roma people's lives over the next decade by focusing on Roma in national, regional and local integration policies in a clear and specific way, addressing them with explicit measures to prevent and compensate for the multiple disadvantages they face.

Member States will be asked to submit national Roma strategies to the Commission by the end of 2011, specifying how they will contribute to achieving the overall EU level integration goals, including setting national targets and allowing for sufficient funding (national, EU and other) to deliver them.

Finally, it proposes solutions for using EU funds more effectively and lays down foundations for a robust mechanism to monitor results.

What are the specific EU-level goals?

The goals address the four main areas for improving social and economic integration for Roma, all of which are primarily national policy areas:

  • Education: ensuring that all Roma children complete primary school;

  • Employment: cutting the employment gap between Roma and other citizens;

  • Health: reducing the gap in health status between the Roma and the general population;

  • Housing: closing the gap in access to housing and public utilities such as water and electricity.

How will the Commission check on progress?

The Commission will report annually to the European Parliament and to the Council on progress on the integration of the Roma population in Member States and on the achievement of the Roma integration goals.

It will base its monitoring notably on:

  • The results of the Roma household survey regularly carried out by the Fundamental Rights Agency, the United Nations Development Programme in cooperation with the World Bank.

  • National reform programmes in the frame of the EU 2020 Strategy, in particular for those countries with a high share of Roma population.

  • Ongoing work within the Open Method of Coordination in the field of social policies.

  • Member States contributions based on their own monitoring systems which national authorities are requested to include in their national Roma integration strategies.

It will also take into account the work of the European Platform for Roma Inclusion.

What about Roma outside the EU?

To improve the situation of the estimated 3.8 million Roma in the western Balkans and Turkey, the Commission intends to step up support for integration in the context of EU enlargement.

The enlargement process includes funding for social development projects, among other things. The Commission will support the national efforts to improve Roma inclusion by improving delivery of aid under the Instrument on Pre-Accession Assistance and encourage Roma involvement in formulating, implementing and monitoring policies. It is currently implementing or planning projects which could exclusively or partly benefit Roma worth €50 million.

The Commission will also closely monitor the economic and social situation of Roma in its enlargement progress reports for each country.

1 :

World Bank, Roma Inclusion: An Economic Opportunity for Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania and Serbia, September 2010.


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