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Mr. László ANDOR

EU Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion

"Moving from hopes and aspirations to concrete action - EU funding and the new EU framework for national Roma integration strategies"

High-level Event on Structural Funds' contribution to Roma inclusion in Bulgaria

Sofia, 21 June 2011


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be with you at this high-level event on the contribution that the Structural Funds can and must make to Roma integration.

I am also pleased to see so many key Bulgarian stakeholders here today.

Roma are Europe’s biggest ethnic minority, a minority that has lived on society’s fringes for centuries, travelling Europe’s roads and camping on the outskirts of our towns and villages.

I believe that the way a society treats its minorities is a measure of its civilisation. I also believe that helping our Roma population to integrate into the labour force and society is both economic sense and a moral imperative.

Annual high-level events of this sort have taken place in Hungary, Romania and Slovakia over the past two years to set in motion a dialogue between the European institutions and national and regional authorities.

These events are followed by regular meetings to evaluate progress, identify the potential bottlenecks and outline solutions. I am sure these high-level events can make a significant contribution to achieving Roma integration.

Europe 2020: the wider framework for action

Ladies and gentlemen,

As you know, the wider framework for our action to generate smart, sustainable and inclusive growth is the Europe 2020 Strategy. It seeks to bolster our economic and social model in a balanced way for the benefit of all Europeans over the coming decade.

We cannot achieve smart or sustainable growth without the contribution of all sections of society and we certainly won't achieve inclusive growth without effective Roma integration.

That is why the continuing exclusion of Roma from the labour market and wider society is not an option. It is as simple as that.

European framework for national Roma integration strategies

To take up the challenge, the Commission put forward proposals in April for a European Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. It sends a strong political signal that we will not accept the social and economic exclusion of millions of Roma people.

And while it is clear that the Member States are primarily responsible for designing and implementing policies to support Roma integration, I firmly believe that the EU also has an important role to play.

The Framework underlines the added value of coordinated EU-level action. It seeks to bring together the relevant policies and instruments to help guide national Roma policies and mobilise EU funds.

Most importantly, it recognises that the problems facing Roma are often closely interlinked — which is why we need an integrated and consistent strategic approach.

The Framework looks at four areas in particular:

• First, education — all Roma children should have access to quality education and not be faced with discrimination or segregation. As a minimum, all Roma children should complete primary school;

• Secondly, employment — to improve labour market participation and reduce the employment gap between Roma and other Europeans;

• Thirdly, health — to reduce the gap in health care between Roma and the rest of the population by providing them with access to quality healthcare and preventive care; and

• Lastly, housing — to improve access to housing and public utilities, including desegregation measures.

As part of the Framework, the Commission has called on the Member States to present National Roma Integration Strategies before the end of the year. We want to see these national plans set goals that are ambitious and realistic.

Last month the Council of Employment and Social Ministers came out in support of our efforts. They invited the Member States to prepare, update or develop their national Roma inclusion strategies or integrated sets of policy measures within their broader social inclusion policies to improve the situation of Roma.

How can Member States deliver?

As a starting point, they need to put in place and develop their strategies in line with agreed principles and legal systems.

Adopted policies and actions must not lead to segregation or discrimination. Policies need to be clearly or explicitly — but not exclusively — directed at Roma. Roma people do not need a separate labour market or separate schools, and they should not be living in ghettos (reference to your later visit to the Fakulteta district).

This could, for example, involve adopting a territorial approach to poverty and social exclusion by identifying the worst-affected micro-regions or districts. All disadvantaged groups leaving in these areas would benefit from dedicated actions.

Getting all stakeholders involved will be vital. In particular, representatives of Roma communities can play a decisivel role in ensuring that Roma integration strategies are both appropriate and implemented effectively.

Now, we all know that we need regular monitoring to make sure we are on the right track. That is why the EU Framework provides the basis for a robust monitoring mechanism to achieve tangible results and progress towards Roma inclusion.

This monitoring mechanism will ensure that the national Roma integration strategies are implemented, that money intended for Roma integration reaches the final beneficiaries and that there is progress towards meeting the goals.

In the longer term, the national strategies will need to be fully in line with policies laid down in National Reform Programmes. The Bulgarian NRP announces the development of an operational strategy for Roma integration to address the multiple barriers faced in the domains of employment, education, health and housing in a single comprehensive plan. I welcome these efforts. This is also reflected in the country specific recommendations put forward by the Commission on 7 June and to be endorsed by the European Council later this week.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are special policy challenges facing Roma inclusion in Bulgaria. The economic crisis has mainly affected the low-skilled, who currently account for almost 70% of the unemployed. Roma make up a large percentage of this group.

The early school-leaving rate, which was 14.7% in 2009, is close to the EU average, but is particularly high among Roma. The Open Society Institute put it at 43% in 2008.

EU Funds: we need to do more and better

The EU Structural Funds are a major financial tool for supporting action to achieve Roma integration.

Cohesion Policy provides considerable support for regions in need of development. For the period 2007 to 2013, some 350 billion euros has been allocated to the 27 Member States as a whole. That is a significant commitment, and we need to make sure that we take full advantage of it.

In particular, I want to see more spent on initiatives that deliver real results for the Roma community. So far, much has been planned, a few projects have been successful in some Member States, but not much has changed on the ground. This needs to improve.

This is also the case in Bulgaria, where the European Social Fund in particular supports an increasing number of employment, education and social inclusion projects targeting Roma. But the real impact of these projects on the lives of Roma people is yet to be seen. (reference to your visit later in the day to the Foundation "For our Children")

Now, the European Social Fund Human Resources Development operational programme in Bulgaria offers an excellent opportunity to address Roma inclusion proactively through well-targeted operations in a number of policy areas.

The Commission is currently working on its proposal for the multiannual financial framework for the period after 2013. It will follow this up with specific proposals on the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund.

In particular, our proposals will look at:

  • • stepping up the Social Fund’s contribution to meeting the EU poverty reduction target;

  • • ensuring that the resources needed are allocated to promoting social inclusion and stepping up support for disadvantaged groups;

  • • simplifying access to grant schemes for local partnerships; and;

  • • harnessing synergy and ensuring the EU Funds mesh and work together.

We need to make our financial instruments more effective and ensure they are fully in line with the Europe 2020 targets. This is, of course, especially relevant to the socio-economic integration of Roma.

Conclusion: making the Framework a success – the way forward

Ladies and gentlemen,

On its own, EU funding cannot solve the problems facing Roma people.

The success of national Roma integration strategies will depend very much on sufficient national resources being allocated to social inclusion in general. It will also call for changes to education, social and employment policy. But for this to happen, the political will needs to be there, together with the willingness of the general population to fully play the game as well.

In addition, leaders of Roma communities need to raise awareness of the long-term benefits of education and ensure that children and young people actually go to school.

They also need to highlight the importance of having a job — for personal well-being as well as in terms of fiscal benefits.

This means investing the resources, political will and effort needed. I am encouraged by the commitment shown by the Council of Employment and Social Affairs Ministers last month at their meeting on Roma inclusion.

Roma integration is vital from both the economic and the moral standpoint. We cannot build an inclusive European Union if we continue to ignore the needs of disadvantaged groups. We cannot achieve high employment and economic growth if we exclude a large part of the potential labour force.

The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies offers an opportunity for cooperation and co-ownership involving local, regional and national authorities — to make Roma inclusion a reality in every village, town and region across Europe.

That is clearly a big task that is not going to be achieved overnight, but we must stand firm. We need to build on the momentum of the past few years and on work achieved at events like the one of today.

I am confident that today’s discussion will pave the way for a closer understanding of the best way forward for Bulgaria.

I am also convinced that all of Bulgaria’s key stakeholders — from policy-makers to Roma themselves — will show their firm commitment to developing a meaningful National Roma Integration Strategy by the end of the year and to implementing it effectively.

We need to move from hopes and aspirations to practical action that actually makes a difference to people's lives.

The road to the social inclusion of our Roma fellow Europeans may be stony and strewn with difficulties, but it is a path we are duty-bound to tread.

I am sure this event can make a big contribution to work on Roma inclusion in Bulgaria and help us make progress along the road.

Thank you.

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