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European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Roma integration can make key contribution to competitiveness
International Conference on Roma inclusion /
Bucharest, 22 April 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
May I congratulate the organisers for their initiative to hold this conference and thank them for their kind invitation.
This conference is indeed very timely. It is an opportunity to take stock of policies aimed at improving the living conditions of Roma people across Europe at a moment when the crisis has in fact led to a worsening of their social situation.
The recent Fundamental Rights Agency’s Roma pilot survey paints a black picture of life for Roma in the European Union of today.
One in three Roma in Europe is unemployed, one in five has no health insurance, and nine out of ten are below the national poverty line. Almost half Roma people live in substandard overcrowded housing with no access to sanitation or electricity.
And what is worst, in recent years the negative effects of multiple forms of discrimination, particularly against Romani children, migrants the elderly, have strengthened.
It is clear that the main road out of poverty is to have job. Our key challenge therefore is to get more Roma people into the labour market. It is not only crucial for improving the living standards of the Roma. It is also a key contribution to our competitiveness as reflected in the Europe 2020 strategy employment targets.
Just consider that in Romania and Bulgaria, one in every four or five new labour-market entrants are Roma. We therefore need to tap the labour-force potential of the significant and growing percentage of the school-age population and future workforce.
Improving the situation of Roma people is also one of the biggest social challenges facing Europe today.
I believe that like all citizens, Roma should have the opportunity to participate in society on an equal footing. They must have the same rights and the same duties as the rest of the population.
Particularly, during the current financial and economic crisis, increasing intolerance towards the Roma has deteriorated social cohesion; and the growing inequality has damaged solidarity.
In light of the growth of the Roma population and its mobility, the integration of Roma people is not limited to one or another community, town, region or country. If their integration failed anywhere in the Union, the European society as a whole would lose cohesion and integrity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Making a real difference to Roma in their daily lives, in particular for those living in remote and isolated communities, demands a joint effort and a long-term commitment at all levels — European, national, regional and local.
The Member States are primarily responsible for designing, implementing and monitoring sustainable Roma Integration policy. But the EU also has added value and a role to play in three key areas.
The first concerns coordinating and putting forward a European level policy framework to increase the effectiveness of Member States’ efforts by monitoring the implementation of national Roma integration strategies and by fostering exchange of best practice.
The second involves providing EU funding alongside national financing to translate those strategies into real action for the socio-economic inclusion of Roma communities.
And the third involves enforcing the implementation of EU anti-discrimination legislation to combat Roma exclusion.
I will focus briefly on the first two — the EU Framework for national Roma integration strategies and the use of EU funds to implement them.
EU Framework for national Roma integration strategies
Regarding the EU policy framework, we have managed to keep up the political momentum generated by the 2011 EU Framework for Roma Integration.
Since the adoption of the Framework, Member States took important first steps to reduce the gap between Roma and the rest of the society. They submitted their national Roma integration strategies focussing on key four policy areas: education, employment, healthcare and housing. They designated national Roma contact points to coordinate their implementation.
This shows that the Member States do recognise that, despite the financial crisis and the difficult socio-economic situation, Roma inclusion is still a shared goal for the EU as a whole.
Now we need a commitment from each Member State to put their strategies into practice.
The Commission is currently preparing its annual monitoring report to the European Parliament and the Council on the Member States’ progress in this area over the last year.
On the basis of the assessment of the strategies and their implementation, the Commission will also put forward a proposal for a Recommendation on enhancing the effectiveness of measures to achieve Roma integration. The Commission's Recommendation and the monitoring report will be published by this summer.
The aim of the proposal is to give impetus to Roma inclusion measures by focusing the Member States' efforts on a number of specific policy, crosscutting and structural measures.
To achieve tangible results, key pre-conditions for a strategy’s successful implementation are:
• adequate and clearly earmarked funding,
• a robust national monitoring system,
• effective coordination of implementation,
• the involvement of the local authorities, and
• close cooperation with civil society.
All of these elements are crucial for achieving real impact on the life of Roma communities. Furthermore, these key preconditions and principles need to be translated into local action.
In December 2011, Romania adopted a National Roma Integration Strategy for 2012 to 2020 and an Action Plan which is currently under revision.
The Commission's assessment of the Romanian strategy stated that it did not sufficiently follow an integrated approach with specific objectives for concrete actions, clear responsibilities, budget allocations and a robust monitoring system. The current revision is an opportunity to overcome these weaknesses.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The implementation of efficient, targeted actions on the ground requires an approach targeting human capital investments. Particularly in Central Europe and the Balkans, social investment in Roma integration can bring high returns, and its absence can result in large economic and social damage.
The Commission's Social Investment Package adopted last February sets out an integrated framework for social policy reform to help Member States use their social budgets more efficiently and more effectively by applying best practice and using of EU funds more effectively.
Here in Romania, investments should be encouraged to facilitate the labour-market integration of Roma people, especially Roma women and young people, and in general those living in remote and isolated communities.
Investments are also needed in programmes to improve skills and employability.
Roma’s low qualifications and lack of formal education prevent them from finding regular, long-term employment. It means they need to make a bigger effort to gain access to employment, be recruited and find a quality job.
The implementation and success of national Roma integration strategies depend very much on the amount and quality of financial support. A key part of this is an effective use of the European Social Fund.
In this respect, in spite of all the good things that have been done, Romania faces two important problems:
First, not enough Structural Fund resources have been used for Roma inclusion, and second, investments have not always been as effective as expected.
According to my information, about 33 000 Roma people have taken part in European Social Fund projects in Romania, well below the target of 65 000 Roma participants for this programming period.
Furthermore, the take-up of Social Fund resources in Romania is still very low and the bodies responsible for implementation and the beneficiaries have come up against a number of difficulties.
A considerable effort is needed to make up the time lost. I am confident that some improvement can still be made during this programming period, but it is even more important to work out the best design for the next programming period.
It must be based on the lessons this period has taught us.
Opportunities for Roma inclusion in forthcoming programming period
For the period 2014 to 2020, the Commission has proposed a specific investment priority for the integration of marginalised communities such as Roma, and a dedicated ex-ante precondition involving putting a suitable Roma inclusion strategy in place in the Member States where EU funds are spent for this purpose.
We also proposed that at EU level at least 25% of Cohesion Policy resources be earmarked for the European Social Fund and at least 20% of Social Fund resources be set aside for social inclusion.
This would mean that at least 5% of cohesion policy resources would go towards social inclusion.
That may not sound much, but it would be an improvement over the current situation, in particular in countries such as Romania that have a large Roma population.
In Romania’s case, the Commission encourages investments in facilitating Roma’s labour-market integration, preventing early school-leaving and improving their access to healthcare and social services.
We expect special attention to be given to remote and isolated communities.
The Commission encourages Romania to combine the various approaches to achieve the best results, including specific targeted measures, explicit but not exclusive measures, general measures, and measures that mainstream equality.
There should also be provision for measures to tackle the problems facing Roma people in all Social Fund objectives — including employment, social inclusion and education — and, most importantly, there should be a strong link between them.
Let me conclude by stressing the crucial importance of partnership.
Romania needs to engage in a sustained dialogue with all players involved in Roma inclusion, including civil society, the social partners and local authorities.
Cooperation between ministries and their counterparts in local government is crucial for good preparations for and the implementation of European Social Fund projects.
The discussions on the 2014-2020 framework are still in the informal phase, but it is now that National Roma Contact Points, Roma NGOs and experts need to be involved.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Roma inclusion should be viewed not as a cost, but as a social investment, in human capital in particular, and will be crucial to meeting the targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
To achieve these targets - especially in those countries where the Roma population is sizeable, like in Romania - the monitoring process under the European Semester ensures the coherence of Roma inclusion with mainstream policies.
I hope that today’s conference will help strengthen our shared understanding of the road ahead.
We need to move on from voicing good intentions, and start taking action that makes a difference to people in their everyday lives.