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Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner

Roma integration: are national governments ready to live up their commitments?

Extraordinary meeting of the European Platform for Roma Inclusion

Brussels, 22 March 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to welcome you to the 7th meeting of the European Platform for Roma inclusion.

Last year, in April, at the meeting of this forum in Budapest, I presented the EU framework for national Roma integration strategies. At that meeting I said that I will be back the following year to report on progress.

A year has passed and I am glad to be here today with you to follow-up on my commitment.

First of all, I would like to thank all of you - the Member States, the European Parliament, the civil society and the international organisations - for your support to the EU Framework.

The Framework reflects the hard work of all stakeholders and the European Commission. We managed to place and keep Roma integration high on the political agenda.

This EU Framework aims to bring about a change in the approach to Roma inclusion: a transition from scattered, project-based interventions to comprehensive, evidence-based strategic thinking. The new approach is also clearly linked to Europe's ambitious economic growth agenda, the Europe 2020 strategy.

The Framework underlines that Roma inclusion is for everyone's benefit. In these economically and financially challenging times, we must remember that inclusive growth remains the pre-condition to Europe's overall success in overcoming the crisis.

We can overcome the crisis and achieve inclusive growth if we empower people through high levels of employment, invest in education, fight poverty and build a cohesive society. Leaving many of the estimated 10-12 million Roma in Europe on the margins of society is not just a clear waste of talents, but it is also a measurable economic loss to our societies.

In 2011 we made important progress in the development of a common EU approach to tackle the exclusion of Roma from our societies.

This progress is the result of the joint efforts and commitment of all the European Institutions to improve the situation of Roma people and their social and economic integration in society. I would like to thank the representatives of the European Parliament for their support and commitment to this process.

I was very pleased to see that all Member States welcomed the EU Framework, recognising it as a major step towards a more socially cohesive Europe.

In May last year, the Member States agreed on the EU Framework. They have also underlined that the protection of fundamental rights, notably by combating discrimination and segregation, was essential for improving the situation of Roma.

This commitment to implementation was subsequently confirmed at the highest political level by the Heads of States and Governments.

I am delighted that all EU Member States honoured their commitments and presented their national Roma integration strategies. This is an indispensable, but just first step towards implementing the EU Framework!

We are currently assessing these strategies. I would like to take this opportunity and thank all stakeholders for their valuable contributions to this process. These contributions are providing a useful background for the assessment which will feed into the Commission's report.

The Commission will report to the European Parliament and to the Council on its findings at the end of April 2012.

The nature of the national documents submitted by the Member States varies according to the size of the Roma population and the challenge Member States need to address.

There are, however, some criteria which are valid for all 27 EU Member States. There is a general need to apply a comprehensive approach, to involve all key national stakeholders, to secure the financial sustainability of the intended measures and to create a robust monitoring system.

In order to secure a comprehensive approach, the various authorities dealing with the 4 key sectors must cooperate and their actions must be mutually reinforcing. Cooperation with the authorities responsible for financing, for legislative planning and others is essential. Moreover, other stakeholders, including regional and local authorities and the civil society, must be included.

This exercise requires strong coordination and monitoring. The Commission has asked Member States to designate a national contact point to coordinate the development and implementation of the strategy.

To be able to perform this function efficiently, the national contact points must have the strength needed for effective coordination and delivery. They will also play a crucial role as interlocutor of the European Commission.

All contact points have been invited to this Platform meeting. We trust this marks the beginning of our close cooperation in the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Drawing up the national Roma integration strategies and sets of policy measures for Roma integration was only the first step. The next step will be even more decisive: it remains to be seen how the strategies will be implemented. This is our focus today and from now on.

The assessment of the strategies has not been finalised yet. However, I can say already that there is still a lot of room for improvement, in particular when it comes to securing sufficient funding for Roma inclusion and putting monitoring mechanisms in place.

Fighting discrimination in education, employment, housing and health would also need to be better addressed, with a clearer focus on Roma women and children in particular.

Most important: while we see a lot of nice words in the national strategies, what is missing are concrete deliverables, quantified targets and clear, ambitious deadlines for action.

It is clear that Member States will need help. They will need your supportsupport of civil society, support of local and regional authorities, and support from the European level.

Member States will need the Commission's support, and let me reassure you that the European Commission is committed to helping Member States in their efforts.

It is in this room, in September 2008, that the issue of Roma integration was acknowledged as a European priority, at the first European Roma Summit. For those who were here back then, let's consider how much we have achieved! The idea that all EU Member States would hand in national Roma integration strategies would have been simply unconceivable four years ago.

And yet, we succeeded in getting things moving. Roma integration is now on the horizon. But there is still a long way to go. Sometimes there will be obstacles that we have to overcome. We have joined our efforts, and that makes us stronger. We are now strong enough to meet the challenges and find solutions.

We have a process in place, a process which should last and deliver results, but most of all 27 national governments need to remain fully and firmly committed to bringing Roma inclusion forward.

As said, I will present the Commission's detailed analysis of the national strategies at the end of April. For our analysis, your views will be crucial. This is why today's Platform will be very important.

Thank you for your attention.

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