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European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Easing the transition of Roma youth from school to the labour market
Roma Platform /Brussels, 27 June 2013
Good morning ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be here at the 8th meeting of the Roma Platform, the day after the adoption of the Commission's latest report on Member States' implementation of their national Roma strategies and the proposal for a Recommendation on Roma integration.
Since I became Commissioner, I have attended all Platform meetings and I have seen how demands to make real changes to improve Roma people's lives have increased.
There is no doubt that Roma integration has risen up the EU agenda, as demonstrated by the activities of the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament.
But, I would also remind you that the gap has been widening between commitments at EU-level and delivery at national and local levels.
Therefore, there is a growing desire and need to make the EU framework for Roma inclusion more effective. In particular by better targeting real needs at national and local level, and improving the delivery of EU funds.
Improving the transition between school and employment must be one of the key priorities.
Before looking at Roma young people and bridging the gap between school and employment, I would like to look back at the earlier stages of education, the topic of the previous panel.
Europe 2020, SIP, Investing in Children Recommendation
Ensuring that Roma children and young people have access to inclusive quality education is vital to Roma’s integration into society and an open labour market in Europe.
This is why Roma children’s very low attendance in pre-school, secondary and tertiary education, and growing school segregation are so worrying.
In countries like the Czech Republic and Slovakia, only one in four Roma children attend pre-school or kindergarten. That is less than half the rate for non-Roma children.
In Slovakia and Bulgaria, over 40% of Roma children attend segregated primary schools or classes where the majority are Roma.
That is not the way to build an inclusive society or economy!
Supporting and empowering individuals through the various stages of life and tackling disadvantage as early as possible, are central to building an inclusive society (as highlighted in the Commission's Social Investment Package adopted in February).
Such support and empowerment is particularly important in childhood in order to break the vicious circle of disadvantage between generations, as stated in the Recommendation on Child Poverty.
This Recommendation also emphasises the need for alternative quality care services for children deprived of parental care — and Roma children are unfortunately over-represented in this group. They should at least have equal access to mainstreamed health services and early childhood education and care to ensure that those most in need can benefit from these services.
Transition from school to the labour market: Youth guarantee, ESF, local implementation gap
Easing the transition from school to the labour market represents another crucial social investment.
This is why our proposed Recommendation on effective Roma integration measures would call on Member States to adopt such measures as:
Getting young people into the labour market is a prerequisite for growth and ensuring that a whole generation does not go to waste.
The Commission has proposed various initiatives with immediate impact, such as the Recommendation on establishing a Youth Guarantee now adopted by the Council.
By endorsing the Recommendation the Member States committed themselves to ensuring that all young people up to the age of 25 receive a high-quality offer of a job, an apprenticeship or a traineeship, or the chance to continue their education, within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.
The Youth Guarantee focuses on young people who are neither in employment nor in education or training, because these young people, who have often left school early, are those most likely to be scarred by the effects of long-term unemployment at a young age.
And unfortunately Roma are over-represented in this group.
In a Communication presented to the European Council today, the Commission urges Member States with regions where over 25% of the young people are unemployed to draw up Youth Guarantee implementation plans by October this year.
Urgent action to implement Youth Guarantee schemes is a top priority.
But the Youth Guarantee is about much more than activation measures.
A good quality offer of employment, an apprenticeship or training is a sustainable path into the labour market, by reaching out to young people furthest from the labour market, and in particular Roma.
I call on the Member States, in proportion to the size and situation of their Roma population, to ensure that Roma young people should be regarded as among the key target groups for their Youth Guarantee Implementation Plans.
I also call on them to ensure that Roma are not discriminated against and excluded from the labour market.
Under the Youth Employment Initiative, €3 billion will supplement at least another €3 billion of European Social Fund resources to support the implementation of the Youth Guarantee.
Ladies and gentlemen,
EU funds, and in particular European Social Fund resources, can also provide support in other ways to ease Roma’s transition Roma from education to the labour market.
This may involve either extending or elaborating schemes to focus on children and young people from a disadvantaged background, including Roma. Let me present some key initiatives financed by the EU Funds:
First, the European Social Fund can be used to support policy to combat early school-leaving, in particular among the most disadvantaged pupils.
In Hungary, for example, support has been provided for extracurricular activities in disadvantaged neighbourhoods with a view to improving the children's educational success and increasing secondary-school enrolment which is a decisive factor in finding a job.
Second, the ESF can also provide support for systems and structures that enable young people to make the transition from education to the working world.
For instance, the Fund has supported "second chance" schools in region of East Slovak with high Roma population. This programme focuses on young people who have dropped out of secondary school without obtaining a certificate and seeks to bring them back into vocational education.
Third, active labour market measures financed by the ESF focus on support for job-search and skills needed to find a job are also effective.
The Spanish ACCEDER programme, which is co-funded by the ESF and the ERDF, improves access to the labour market through individual employment itineraries and developing and improving human resources.
It has succeeded in placing 33 827 people on the labour market, 70% of whom are Roma.
Such social investments need to be stepped up in the forthcoming programming period.
In broader and more forward looking terms, the European Social Fund should be used to respond to the most important country-specific challenges identified by the Commission in the European Semester.
I underline that the Commission's scrutiny of Member States’ efforts to integrate Roma in connection with the Europe 2020 targets is to ensure, that their Roma integration strategies and associated measures focusing on Roma are not part of a stand-alone policy area that is isolated from (and sometimes undermined by) mainstream policy measures.
In May 2013, the Commission proposed Roma-specific recommendations for education for five Member States with the largest Roma communities (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia).
They highlight the need to give Roma children and young people effective access to inclusive mainstream quality education and to fight against early school-leaving.
This is important because these country-specific recommendations represent funding priorities for the Commission in negotiations with the Member States on how EU funds will be used in the period 2014 to 2020.
The allocation of the EU Funds should be sufficient to meet the Europe 2020 education and employment targets, and to lift at least 20 million people out of poverty by 2020. That is why the Commission has proposed that an adequate share of the cohesion budget at EU level be allocated to investing in human capital and social reform through the European Social Fund, and at least 20% of that amount focus on social inclusion in each Member State.
And it also means that further Member States – in proportion to the size and situation of their Roma people - should also ensure that appropriate measures are taken to address Roma inclusion. Roma integration is highlighted among funding priorities for more than 10 countries, including several beyond the 5 with Roma specific CSRs, such as Croatia, France, Italy, and Spain.
Local authorities also have a crucial role to play.
It is up to them to implement most of the measures required to achieve Roma inclusion on the ground — in particular as regards education, employment, health, public services and social housing.
It is also a matter of political will and the capacity to design, obtain funding for and implement Roma inclusion measures.
But the fact is that political will and institutional capacity at local level tend to be inadequate in countries with large Roma minorities.
Helping local authorities to achieve Roma inclusion is therefore essential.
The Commission, in a Coalition with other international organisations (such as EEA Norway Fund, Council of Europe, UNDP, Open Society Foundation), is exploring how to develop concrete joint actions so as to improve effectiveness to build the capacity of local authorities.
The objective is to promote a better co-ordination of various initiatives and networks, and offer a comprehensive package of complementary support to municipalities committing to improve Roma inclusion on their territory.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Commission has provided policy guidance within the EU Roma policy framework and funds to make a real change. But, the concrete actions with allocated resources should be implemented at local and national levels. It requires political will and commitments to turn the national poverty, education and employment targets set out on paper into operational actions that will yield returns. A sustainable result depends on your contributions. Therefore, I encourage you to pro-actively take part in negotiations on designing, implementing and monitoring programmes for Roma integration. This meeting today is a good opportunity for your voices to be heard.
We will now listen to presentations on vocational education, training, and lifelong learning programmes focusing on Roma young people.
I am sure they will provide inspiring examples of promising practices that deserve scaling up, disseminating and implementing on the ground.