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Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner

The Commission's Communication on "National Roma Integration Strategies: a first step in the implementation of the EU Framework"

Press Conference

Strasbourg, 23 May 2012

I am glad to be here today with my colleagues László Andor and Lívia Járóka – just one year after we adopted the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. We - the European Commission and the European Parliament - have succeeded in putting Roma integration high, not only on the EU's political agenda – but also on Member States' national agendas.

And today we are seeing the first results of our work: all Member States – except for Malta, which has no Roma population – have lived up to their word and submitted national Roma integration strategies to the European Commission.

The EU Framework for national Roma strategies set out four key areas which Member States were asked to address: access to education, jobs, healthcare and housing. In June last year, for the first time, the heads of state and government of all 27 EU Member States committed to addressing these four policy areas. One year on they have now delivered national strategies to do just that. This shows the strong political will to tackle the challenges of Roma integration.

The European Commission has looked at all the strategies and the first thing I have to say is: they vary significantly.

First, they vary in terms of length and the level of detail given.

Second, they vary in terms of ambition. Some set ambitious targets with a clear timetable, while others are rather limited in scope.

Third, they vary in relation to the type and size of the Roma population on the territory concerned and the specific challenges Member States need to address.

And finally, the national strategies vary in terms of the policy areas covered. This is what concerns me the most.

Because even if all EU Member States have acknowledged that education and employment are priority areas, and all have also mentioned some measures to fight discrimination, not all Member States have addressed the important issues of access to decent housing and healthcare.

This is deeply regrettable because clearly these are areas where national action is needed. The figures speak for themselves: life expectancy for Roma is 10 years less than the EU average of 76 for men and 82 for women.

What's more, a startling report released today by the Fundamental Rights Agency shows that about 45 % of the Roma surveyed live in households lacking an indoor kitchen, toilet, shower or bath, or electricity. The report also shows that one in three Roma is unemployed, 20 % are not covered by health insurance, and 90 % are living below the poverty line.

The information is sobering – and should serve as a wake-up call to Member States. The Commission's message today is this: Member States need to extend health and basic social security coverage to Roma people. They also need to improve living conditions especially in segregated settlements.

There are some good examples from which other Member States could learn a thing or two: Austria, for example, is promoting access to the labour market for young Roma through a project which includes community work, coaching and training. Ireland has made a wide range of Travellers-dedicated health services available, such as the Traveller Health Units including public nurses for Travellers. And Welsh authorities have put in place specific measures to improve accommodation and access to services for Roma and Travellers – funding for refurbishment and the creation of new sites was increased from 75% to 100%.

These are some good examples. And it is good to see that Member States have made an effort to address the issues outlined in the EU Framework. But this is only a first step. For the strategies to exist not just on paper and to produce tangible benefits for the 10-12 million Roma living in Europe we now need concrete measures, explicit targets, earmarked funding and sound monitoring and evaluation. As we know, the devil is in the detail. And it is precisely this level of detail that is lacking in most of the strategies.

We have funds at European level that can be used to finance projects that benefit Roma. However, today's assessment shows that only 12 countries have clearly identified allocated funding and presented specific amounts for Roma inclusion policy measures in their strategy papers (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Sweden). My colleague Lázló will tell you more about this in a second.

Investing in Roma might not be politically opportune but it makes economic sense. In these times of crisis, a better economic and social integration of all EU citizens is imperative because, otherwise, potential talent is going to waste. Roma represent a growing share of the working age population. For example, they make up one in five new labour market entrants in Bulgaria and Romania. Research by the World Bank suggests full Roma integration could be worth around half a billion a year to the economies of some countries by improving productivity, cutting welfare bills and boosting tax receipts.

Roma integration must not be seen as a cost, but as a benefit to society. Member States should now work on further specifying and delivering the actions foreseen in their strategies.

What we are presenting today is only one milestone on the road to Roma integration in the EU. Member States have just started their work. They now need to implement their strategies, strengthen them and put in place a long-lasting framework. The European Commission and the European Parliament will follow this closely and report publicly about progress made – or the lack thereof.

We are all aware of the enormous challenges faced by Roma communities. It is time to translate ambitions into action.

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