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SPEECH/11/246

Mr. László ANDOR

EU Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion

Putting an end to the exclusion of Roma people - an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies

Roma Platform Gala

Budapest, April 8 2011

Dear Ministers, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests,

It is a great pleasure to be with you today.

This fifth meeting of the European Platform for Roma Inclusion takes places at a time, when the socio-economic situation of Roma has risen up the European agenda. Now we are about to discuss how to ensure progress in the future.

Last month, the European Parliament presented its views in its Resolution on the "EU Strategy on Roma Inclusion". I welcome this Resolution as an impressive and very substantial contribution to the debate. It contains a wealth of stimulating ideas and useful suggestions.

This week the Commission set out its proposals for an "EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies". We have sent a strong political signal that the social and economic exclusion of millions of Roma people is simply not acceptable.

Together with the outcome of the debate today at this Platform, these contributions will feed into the Council Conclusions.

Vice-President Reding has presented the key points of our joint Communication. I would like to highlight number of thoughts on two issues that I feel are particularly important:

1. The EU Framework and Europe 2020

First, I would like to say couple words about the title of our Communication: an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies.

This title underlines that the Member States are primarily responsible for designing and implementing Roma Integration policies. Nevertheless, the EU level also has an important role to play.

The European added value is our ability to mobilise EU-level policies and instruments for Roma integration. These policies and instruments make up the EU Framework.

What does this mean in practical terms?

One key element of this EU Framework is the Europe 2020 strategy. It is a strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth to build our economic and social model in a balanced way.

Europe 2020 is the right policy context to improve the socio-economic situation of the Roma. It is the right policy context because it focuses on the right issues. The Commission's Communication on Roma identifies four areas that are of strategic importance for overcoming Roma exclusion. These are:

- the employment situation of Roma,

- their education and

- poverty and social exclusion, going hand in hand with poor health and housing.

Europe 2020 is also the right context because it requires that these issues are not addressed in isolation. Instead, it recognises that social exclusion is often the result of several interrelated problems. It requires an integrated approach.

This approach is exemplified in the set of ten Integrated Policy Guidelines that – and this is a historic breakthrough – include one Guideline exclusively on poverty and social exclusion.

Looking at the situation of the Roma people from the perspective of the Europe 2020 strategy it is clear that:

To exclude millions of EU citizens from economic and societal life is not smart, it is not sustainable and it is certainly not inclusive. Within Europe 2020, there is no room for the continued exclusion of Roma.

Therefore, we have to harness the Europe 2020 strategy, including its objectives, targets, flagship initiatives and reporting structures for the cause of the Roma.

In particular, the European headline targets on employment, poverty reduction and education are key benchmarks to measure the progress of Roma integration policies against.

2. EU funding

Ladies and gentlemen,

My second point is that we also have to put our funds where needs are most acute. Let me start with the relevant EU funds:

To date, relevant EU funds total some EUR 50 billion per year. As such, they provide a very significant financial lever to support national efforts to improve the situation of Roma.

There is only limited time before the current programming period come to an end in 2013. The Communication calls on Member States to make full use of the funds available now.

The Commission is currently preparing its proposal for the multi-annual financial framework that will cover the period after 2013. It will be followed by specific proposals on the structural funds.

To my mind, these funds need to be in line with the Europe 2020 objectives.

Clearly, this applies to the policy areas for which I am responsible: employment and social inclusion – and it certainly also applies to the socio-economic integration of Roma.

For me, a key objective is to improve the effectiveness of our financial instruments.

Let me complement these observations about EU funds by two other issues: micro-finance and the social economy.

Micro-finance

In addition to using EU structural funds to help Roma communities, another possibility of support is offered by a relatively new instrument, the so-called European Microfinance Facility. It aims to facilitate access to finance for people who want to start up or further develop their own business but have difficulties in accessing banking loans. Thus, Roma communities are one of the beneficiaries targeted by the instrument.

This instrument supports self-employment which is an important driver of entrepreneurship that significantly contributes to job creation. Self-employment offers a valuable opportunity for Roma to make use of their skills and shape their own job.

An initial EU budget of 100 million euros for the period 2010 to 2013 is expected to leverage a total amount of 500 million euros in micro-credit. In other words, we estimate that this will result in around 45,000 loans over a period of up to eight years, and I would expect a significant number to be Roma.

Social economy

Let me now turn to the potential of the social economy:

Social economy initiatives have grown throughout Europe, bringing innovative responses to specific social needs.

In many areas of economic activity, groups of individuals have got together to set up their own structures to promote their own or general public interests. The basis of such structures is membership and solidarity.

Social enterprise represents 10% of all European businesses and employs over 11 million paid employees, but membership of social economy enterprises is much wider, with estimates ranging as high as 160 million. They strengthen the involvement of businesses in building more inclusive societies, but also they encourage the employment of people from disadvantaged groups as well as the better management of diversity.

I think that social enterprises could play an important role in preparing Roma youth for careers in both conventional and cutting edge sectors, such as ICT and media.

Cooperatives for instance are autonomous associations of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations, as well as offering technical support and training. Roma cooperatives could be a useful means for stimulating Roma employment and active social inclusion.

Nevertheless, EU funding alone can however not solve the problems experienced by Roma people.

In addition to the necessary reform of education, social and employment policies, the implementation and success of national Roma integration strategies will very much depend on sufficient national resources being allocated to social inclusion in general.

Making the Framework a success - the way forward

I am fully convinced that we can make this EU Framework a success when we keep a number of points in mind:

Let me start with expectations and ambitions. I believe we all agree that the challenge we are facing is formidable.

This means that we have to invest a lot in terms of political will and we have to invest sufficient resources. I am convinced that this investment will pay – both in respect of being faithful to our values and economically with higher employment and growth rates.

This means that we also have to invest time.

We have to have realistic expectations. We are not going to transform the situation on the ground within a short time

However, we cannot afford to wait. Action needs to start now.

A good example is the fight against social exclusion in the phase of early childhood. We all agree that it is more efficient and more effective to invest in Roma children, their health and their skills, so we do not only promote equal opportunities – we also fight the inter-generational transmission of poverty. We invest in tomorrow's work force at a time of a serious demographic challenge.

This brings me to another observation. I am convinced that we are witnessing a unique window of opportunity: we have to keep the momentum and to maintain awareness for the situation of Roma.

To this end, the Commission calls on Member States to present their National Roma Integration Strategies before the end of the year. From the point of view of the Commission it is important that these national strategies set out in specific and practical terms what action for Roma is planned.

However, it is important to recognise that setting out National Roma Integration strategies is a very important step, but it is only the first one. In longer term, these national strategies need to be fully consistent with those policies set out in the National Reform Programmes.

We have to find a proper way to implement the strategy in line with the agreed principles and legal systems. Relevant policies should target Roma in an explicit but not in an exclusive way.

We all know that it is easy to call for "targeted policies" that reach out to the Roma. However, problems can arise in implementing such an approach.

On the one hand, we all are aware of the difficulties and risks linked to any form "ethnic targeting". On the other hand, we are all keen to improve the effectiveness of policy interventions.

The European Parliament advocates an approach that has been developed here in Hungary. It is based on a territorial approach to poverty and social exclusion by identifying those micro-regions that are hit the most.

My last point is about involving all relevant stakeholders. To improve the socio-economic situation of Roma, it is crucial that all stakeholders at all levels are involved in this work. The representatives of Roma communities have essential role in ensuring that Roma integration strategies are appropriate and implemented effectively, as well as for facilitating responsible societal debate and encouraging greater accountability. (reference to the meeting on Thursday)

The Platform is a unique forum that brings together these stakeholders, therefore the Commission is committed to getting involved more and ensuring the continuity of its work.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen,

The EU Framework for national Roma integration strategies provides the opportunity for joining forces at all levels and with all stakeholders to address one of the most serious social challenges in Europe: putting an end to the exclusion of Roma people.

This is an important meeting as we have to move from good intentions to specific action and real progress on the ground. I hope that the discussion today will pave the way for a shared understanding about the best way forward.

Thank you for your attention.


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