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Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship

The imperative of Roma integration: More than just a "summer story"

Council of Europe High-Level Meeting on Roma and Travellers

Strasbourg, 20 October 2010

Dear Chairman of the Committee, dear Secretary General, dear Ministers,

I want to express my thanks to the Council of Europe for organising the High-Level meeting on Roma.

The integration of Roma in Europe can no longer wait. We cannot continue to look away from centuries of rejection, deeply rooted prejudice, extreme poverty, precariousness, unemployment, poor health and education. We have a major task ahead of us; looking away from the unacceptable living conditions of the Roma is contrary to our very own values and fundamental principles.

The European Union and the Council of Europe share the same objective: the integration and well-being of the Roma in Europe. And this is a good start.

The Council of Europe has introduced pioneer initiatives in this field: the Committee of Experts on Roma, the "Dosta" campaign and the work of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.

We welcome the efforts made and the work done by the Council of Europe in all its 47 Member States. We need now to ensure the coherence of our actions.

It is important that all organisations play their role to the fullest and work in the framework of their competences. We should each play to our strengths. As Secretary General Mr Jagland said recently "we must avoid duplication and overlap of work". I agree entirely with those words.

The "Strasbourg Commitments" of the Council of Europe show that it is crucial to share the existing best practices in the field of economic and social inclusion of the Roma. It is equally crucial to involve civil society in promoting and in exchanging best practices.

Our common goal on the integration of Roma requires the active and concerted participation of several actors at different levels, both in countries of origin and in host countries. And our resources – national and European – must be used efficiently and effectively. In times of austerity and budgetary contention we cannot afford unnecessary duplications. And all possible synergies and complementarities must be exploited for the benefit of Roma people.

Each player, at every level must be mobilised. Policies on education, housing, access to health and employment are in the hands of the local, regional and national authorities. It is for them to ensure that concrete action is taken in favour of and with the Roma communities.

From our side, the European Commission intends to do much more than simply call Member States to action. For the Commission, the Roma issue is more than a summer story. We have been active for over ten years in this field. We do recognise, however, that more needs to be done.

That is why in April this year, the Commission set out a comprehensive strategic approach in its Communication on the social and economic integration of Roma in Europe. The Commission put the issue of Roma integration into a broader perspective. We set out a strategy to have an agenda for a truly inclusive society focusing on fighting poverty, improving skills, bolstering social cohesion and increasing employment. That’s why our work in support of Roma integration has also to be seen against the background of the Europe 2020 strategy. We must ensure it works for Roma in the same way as it should work for all other Europeans.

We started defining tailor-made approaches to dealing with the needs of various Roma communities developing a set of integration models for the various Roma communities. Such models for integration will allow Member States' authorities to choose from a broad mix of instruments and policies that are most suited to their Roma communities.

The European Union can also help creating opportunities through the Structural Funds. The EU Structural Funds offer a very useful financial lever for supporting national efforts to improve the situation of Roma. We are pleased to see that most Member States already use EU funds to support Roma. However, more needs to be done: EU funds are often not fully used or used in an effective way.

This is why the European Commission has promoted measures to facilitate the access to EU funds such as allowing the Fund to support the renovation of housing in rural areas where many Roma live. We have also held high-level events in Member States with large Roma minorities to promote a better use of EU funds for the integration of Roma. Events already took place in Hungary, in Romania, and more are planned shortly in Bulgaria and Slovakia.

Last month on 7 September the Commission established a Roma Task Force to examine how EU funds can help to further strengthen national measures for Roma integration.

On this basis, the Commission will present an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies next April. This EU Framework will assess the use of national and European funding and make proposals for a more effective implementation of EU funds to tackle Roma exclusion. The EU Framework will also ensure a more efficient monitoring of the national efforts with regard to Roma integration.

To that end the Commission will invite Member States – both countries of origin and host countries – to present their own national strategies for the integration of Roma and associate the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency to bring in particular its valuable work in the field of data collection.

Also the Roma themselves play a key role in their own integration. Integration policies must be evidence-based and must be designed WITH the Roma and not just FOR the Roma. With Roma women. And with Roma children. Failing to involve Roma in the design of effective integration policies to finally break the poverty cycle and is a recipe for failure.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are facing big challenges. The situation will not change overnight and it will take time before we see real change on the ground.

But we must not let that stop us. We should persevere. We cannot afford to let another generation of Roma fail to live up to their full potential — for both moral and economic reasons.

Today, in Europe, Roma are discriminated against on the basis of their ethnic origin. This is unacceptable. Public authorities and politicians must show leadership to counter rhetoric fuelling discrimination. I invite all Ministers around this table to watch over this.

We have set our sights high, but the goal is simple: let us ensure that Roma enjoy the same rights and opportunities as anyone else.

Roma are no different from anyone else. Give them a chance to study and they will learn. Give them a chance to find a job and they will work. Enable Roma to be a positive part of our societies and play an active role in our policy processes.

It is now for all policy-makers to show that the commitment to this largest European minority is not just a one-off matter.

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