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Mr. László ANDOR
EU Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
" Getting Member States to draw up their Roma integration strategies – Opening of Roma Platform"
Sixth meeting of the European Roma Platform
Brussels, 17 November 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are discussing Roma integration in a critical time. A lot has been taken for financial stability, more needs to be done for social cohesion. We have to strengthen solidarity in terms of quality of relations within society and among Member States.
The inclusion of our Roma population is a challenge for the European Union as a whole, but progress depends on efforts at national and local level.
That is why the contribution of all those present today — who represent the Member States, civil society, Roma groups and international organisations — is vital.
The issue of Roma inclusion has been on the European policy agenda for several years now. The European institutions have mobilised around the Roma issue. A lot of work has been done in terms of strategic planning and coordination.
But not much — and certainly not enough — has changed on the ground. Far too many Roma are still trapped in poverty and suffer from inadequate education, unemployment, bad housing and poor health.
The economic crisis and the social tension it has brought in several Member States make Roma integration strategies or integrated sets of policy measures more important than ever.
The stakes are high. It is now primarily for the Member State governments to reach out to people and NGOs to build and foster consensus on Roma inclusion. So far there has been a lot of talk.
We expect their national Roma integration strategies to bring real improvements for these millions of European citizens.
Today I am touching upon the following three issues:
1. Europe 2020: the policy framework for action on Roma inclusion
Ladies and gentlemen,
The macroeconomic policy context is far from ideal. Economic growth across the Union is sluggish and very uneven, and the uncertainty created by the current sovereign debt crisis could trigger another recession.
As many Member States are concentrating on getting their finances in order, they have less funds available for labour market and social investment — let alone Roma inclusion.
But this could aggravate social inequality and exclusion and hamper longer-term growth prospects as well. The resulting social time bomb could explode at any moment.
We have witnessed once again attacks against Roma people who are becoming targets and scapegoats, given their vulnerable, marginalised and often desperate situation. These are intolerable violations of the most fundamental rights all European citizens should enjoy, and are incompatible with the social values on which the European Union is built. I urge the Member States to take action to end them, hold those responsible to account and prevent any repetition.
Not just being nice and politically correct, national politicians have to build a positive atmosphere around Roma inclusion in order to ensure that social and economic inclusion is embedded in cultural and political integration. The EU made a strong commitment to these values in the Europe2020 Strategy. It set targets to reduce the number of people living in poverty and exclusion by 20 million by 2020, to raise the employment rate to 75% or to reduce the early school-leaving rate to under 10%.
But we cannot meet or risk these targets if we leave Roma communities by the wayside. And that means all Member States must make a big effort.
The bad news is that the Member States’ combined national targets to reduce poverty and social exclusion do not add up to the EU headline target agreed by the European Council, at least for a time being.
What is more, at present and for the foreseeable future, it will be even harder for the Member States to meet the targets they have set, while the corresponding need will be even greater.
They would have to step up their efforts at a time when they need to balance their budgets and reduce debt. How can they preserve growth and safeguard people’s welfare at the same time?
The Europe2020 Strategy offers a solution. Improving education, employment, and reducing poverty are about better using our human resources. And that is especially relevant to empowering Roma citizens.
We cannot build an inclusive Europe if we continue to ignore the needs of disadvantaged groups. And we cannot have high employment and economic growth if we exclude a large section of Romas from the labour force and societal life.
Ensuring that young Roma people receive a proper education and necessary training, become productive members of society, and share in its prosperity will be even more vital as the population grows older and the percentage of pensioners rises in Europe.
That is why the success of Roma inclusion is in everyone's interest in Europe. Societies where Roma do well will be more cohesive and more prosperous too. Protecting and supporting disadvantaged individuals and communities is not just important when times are hard, but is also an investment into our future prosperity and well-being.
Action in the short term should serve a long-term vision. The crisis should prompt the refocusing of budgets and society on what matters for the future.
The Europe2020 Strategy is based on the belief that economic and social objectives can be mutually supportive. There is no trade-off between economic efficiency and social equity. A strong economy relies on a cohesive society.
It is fair to say that the main responsibility for social inclusion policy lies with the Member States. But the European Union has contributed significantly and is determined to continue to do so in the future, in particular through our financial instruments.
2. The Commission's contribution
Ladies and gentlemen,
We need to look at how the Commission can contribute to making Roma inclusion a reality. The clearest illustration of our commitment is the financial resources the EU can mobilise.
The Structural Funds — namely, the European Social Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and, to some extent, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development — are important for supporting the integration of Roma people. The resources of the three funds total some €50 billion per year.
The European Social Fund already cofinances projects for Roma integration in such key sectors as education, employment, microfinance and equal opportunities.
Some Member States allocate European Social Fund finance exclusively for Roma integration, others support schemes that benefit Roma people, among other vulnerable groups, while the rest support action involving Roma without explicitly mentioning them among the beneficiaries.
The European Regional Development Fund, which has financed investments in housing for marginalised communities since 2010, and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development support the socio-economic inclusion of Roma.
The Member States' capacity to use funds effectively for Roma inclusion is as important as the amount itself. We can do better than we are doing now, and do better we must.
Funds are often not used properly owing to a lack of political will, a lack of national consensus or a failure to recognise that making better use of EU funds for marginalised communities, including Roma, will benefit society as a whole.
Another key problem is a lack of administrative capacity, combined with burdensome, changing, opaque rules that are often laid down at national or regional level.
Those whose job it is to implement action on the ground — such as local authorities and NGOs — often lack the operational and financial capacity to manage projects. And some countries with large Roma minorities have great difficulty in absorbing EU funds in general.
The Commission is aware of the need to raise awareness of the opportunities EU funds offer to improve Roma’s social and economic situation and increase ownership and responsibility at national level.
It has held a series of high-level events in several Member States — namely, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria. These are not just one-off events, but have set in processes involving the authorities and Roma stakeholders to use EU funds for Roma integration better.
Next year these events will focus on issues identified in National Roma Integration Strategies.
Furthermore, making the best use of EU funds available under the forthcoming Multiannual Financial Framework will be crucial.
On 6 October the Commission put forward a proposal for cohesion policy that involves many innovations for the future and a particularly strong social agenda.
Let me highlight some of its key innovations of relevance to today’s topic.
First, the Commission suggests that a large percentage of the budget are channelled into areas that are closely related to the Europe 2020 Strategy, its objectives and headline targets.
The EU headline targets are directly supported by the European Social Fund, so that the Fund can contribute to increasing the employment rate and reducing early school-leaving rate and the number of people living in poverty.
That is why the Commission has proposed an increase in the ESF budget of at least 7.5%, amounting to at least €84 billion over seven years.
Second, the ESF of the future will have a stronger social dimension. The Member States will be required to allocate at least 20% of their European Social Fund resources to social inclusion.
This could significantly increase funding in some countries with big Roma minorities where only 5 to 10% of EFS is currently spent on social inclusion.
Third, the Commission proposal contains various points to make cohesion policy more effective in general.
For example, a comprehensive system of "conditionalities" will be introduced to ensure the Member States put in place the right framework conditions, which are important for achieving better results.
The new system will have highly practical implications for the funding of Roma integration. In particular, a suitable national Roma integration strategy will be a precondition for channelling EU funding.
The message is clear: national Roma strategies can only be credible if they provide for the necessary funding, and EU funding of Roma policy can only be effective if it is underpinned by suitable, coherent national strategies.
Lastly, the Member States will need to explain how they intend helping those most in need.
They will need to put forward a coherent multidimensional strategy to address the specific needs of society’s most vulnerable groups or the geographical areas most affected by poverty, and allocate funding from the various EU funds to them.
3 . Key requirements for the success of National Roma Strategies
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me sum up the basic requirements for successful Roma inclusion in the future.
First, all Member States must live up to their commitments to draw up and implement ambitious national Roma inclusion strategies or integrated sets of policy measures as part of their broader social inclusion policy.
They must do this with the Roma communities and organisations — not for them, and certainly not on their behalf.
Roma communities need co-ownership of all EU projects to help them — alongside the local, regional and national authorities. This is a key condition for making Roma inclusion a fact across Europe’s villages, towns and regions.
The strategies must be comprehensive and cover at least the four policy areas employment, education, health and housing highlighted by the EU framework with an integrated approach. They have to ensure compliance with the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin, including desegregation and anti-discrimination.
They must include action plans setting out specific policy measures, which should be evidence-based and form part of an integrated approach, with a corresponding time schedule and appropriate national and European funding.
I would like to underline that the elements of these strategies have to be interconnected to all relevant policy areas. Isolated measures which target Roma people without a broader coordination could not be efficient and consistent with necessary national structural reforms.
Second, Member States must make better use of the possibilities offered by the EU Funds and take fuller advantage of EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies.
Third, an enabling legislative framework for Cohesion Policy is needed. It provides a good basis for effective investment in Roma integration in the new programming period from 2014.
As I pointed out, the new Cohesion package put forward by the Commission sets out important elements here. I hope our proposal will be supported by the Council and Parliament.
Fourth, during the new programming period, the Member States must ensure that partnership contracts and operational programmes take due account of the needs of Roma communities. They must also make maximum use of the new resources and instruments to step up the social inclusion of Roma.
The national Roma inclusion strategies or integrated sets of policy measures, and progress made in their implementation have to be fully in line with the National Reform Programmes to be submitted under Europe 2020. They also ensure reporting to the Member States committed themselves under the social Open Method of Coordination — such as National Social Reports.
Roma inclusion is also important in the candidate and potential candidate countries. Progress reports in the enlargement package also cover monitoring and feedback on the Commission's assessment.
Fifth, we need delivery systems that are transparent, accountable and efficient. Commission assessment of national Roma strategies, where necessary, will be followed by bilateral meetings between the Commission services and national authorities in spring 2012.
We encourage scrutiny and support provided by other institutions and civil society to ensure continuous monitoring of the implementation of national Roma strategies on the ground. It could contribute to our reporting procedure as well.
Monitoring is important in ensuring that strategies are implemented, funding actually reaches the beneficiaries, and progress is made towards meeting the EU Roma integration goals.
Existing governance and coordination mechanisms under Europe2020 and the Social Open Method of Coordination, the national monitoring and review mechanisms, and the reformed European Platform for Roma Inclusion will support monitoring and future annual reporting on national Roma strategies.
I trust that future Platform meetings will give us the chance to review progress on the ground and step up cooperation in implementing these strategies. You can count on my full commitment and support in this crucial task.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The road to full economic and social integration of Roma communities into mainstream society in the European Union will be long and also hard.
It will not be made easier by the economic crisis we are going through and the new recession which might be threatening.
They make it more urgent than ever to tackle the poverty and social exclusion facing these millions of Europeans.
Along — I trust — with all of you, I am convinced that if we manage to make good our commitment and maintain our dedication, the investment will be worth it in terms of social cohesion and economic prosperity.