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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Speech by President Barroso at the European Roma Summit
Brussels, 4 April 2014
Thank you Françoise,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Minister Michelakis, representing the Greek presidency of the Council,
And other Ministers I see here, the Ministers of Justice of Romania and Bulgaria,
My dear colleagues from the Commission, Vice-President Reding, Commissioner Andor,
Mister Zoni Weisz,
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am indeed very pleased to be here today.
Six years ago, at the time of the first Roma Summit, I spoke about Roma inclusion for the first time at European level.
At that time, we could not have imagined that the issue of Roma inclusion would rise so high on the political agenda in the following years.
Now, we can be proud that, through strong cooperation between the European institutions, Member States and local governments, we have a come a long way.
Because a society is only strong when it takes care of its weakest members.
I am also proud of the leadership role of the Commission. I would like especially to pay tribute to the very courageous initiatives of Vice-President Reding and also the work done together with Commissioner Andor. And we are now moving a step forward by taking it to the next phase – 'Going local on Roma inclusion', which is the topic of today's Summit.
Ladies and gentlemen,
First, what exactly have we achieved in the last few years?
We have put in place three strong pillars for Roma integration.
First, this Commission has built a strong policy pillar, with the adoption of the European framework for national Roma integration strategies in 2011. The ambition was clear, especially considering there was little to start from: that each Member State should establish its own tailor-made Roma strategy. Member States took up the challenge, together with us, and now we see progress in the national policies.
To support Member States' efforts, the Commission has put in place reporting mechanisms and follow-up structures: two days ago we have adopted the last report on the implementation by Member States of their national Roma strategies. This report gives evidence, as we have seen all along these first years that action in favour of Roma integration is now in motion in all Member States. Also those responsible for Roma integration in each Member State meet regularly to discuss synergies on Roma integration. This never happened before, but now it's standard practice.
In addition, we have regular bilateral dialogues with Member States on Roma integration. Again, a practice that was far from common back in 2008.
Second, the European Commission has also built a strong legal pillar on Roma integration – in addition to the existing acquis on equality and non-discrimination. That is, you know, a basic principle of the European Union, but we have now defined something more specific for the Roma situation.
Last year, we have proposed the first ever legal instrument on Roma inclusion: a Council Recommendation on Roma integration measures. This proposal was adopted unanimously by all Member States in Council after only 6 months of negotiations.
And third, in addition to this policy pillar and legal pillar, there is now a reinforced financial pillar for the period 2014-2020.
This was a priority for this Commission: to ensure that a higher share of European funds are mobilised to fight poverty and to meet the needs of those, like the Roma, who are socially excluded. We have managed to stick to our position during the negotiations and now at least €80 billion will be allocated to investment in human capital, employment and social inclusion through the European Social Fund and at least 20%, compared with today 17%, of the Social Fund must be earmarked to fight social exclusion and poverty. Also Roma education projects, some of them implemented in cooperation with the Council of Europe and by relevant NGOs, are supported by the Commission through different EU programmes.
Initiatives such as the establishment of the European Roma Institute by Mr Jagland of the Council of Europe and Mr Soros of the Open Society Foundation are complementary initiatives to the Commission's and Member States' actions and to fight negative stereotypes and advance on Roma inclusion. I am informed that these initiatives are getting considerable support of Member States, of the Council of Europe and this is indeed very promising.
All these, among others, are important achievements, reached in only four years' time, and we can all be proud of the progress we have made together.
Now – and this is important – we cannot say that everything is perfect, far from that. Now it is essential to focus on the full implementation of these policies, combining legal and financial measures, in order to make a real difference on the ground. Implementation is key for the success of our policies.
While we see positive developments, we should not forget the reality of the situation in which most of Roma people in Europe live today. More efforts are indeed needed if we want to change the situation of Roma in Europe.
It is unacceptable – and I think that unacceptable is the right word – that many Roma people are still living in utmost poverty and suffer social exclusion in a number of our cities and towns.
It is unacceptable that in some places Roma children are sent to the only school in the vicinity – a school for mentally disabled children – with no hope of reaching their true potential in education and employment.
It is unacceptable that Roma people still face discrimination in hospitals, companies and schools; that they remain without adequate housing, without a future.
And it is simply unacceptable to hear anti-Roma rhetoric gaining ground among our fellow citizens.
We here are united in not accepting things as they are. As political leaders at different levels, we accept the common responsibility to fight these prejudices, these unacceptable things, whichever they are and by whichever means we have.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have put the fate of Roma families firmly on the agenda and created the framework and the momentum necessary. We have put in place what I will call an EU-Roma policy. But the path is still long to achieve Roma integration on the ground.
This is why this Summit is focusing on 'going local on Roma inclusion', and why so many local and regional decision-makers and civil society active on the ground are here with us today and I would like really to welcome all of you to this conference. We have to ensure that you have the means to translate our policy commitments into measures at the local level. That is where the policies meet reality: at local level.
This Summit is an acknowledgement of all the work local civil society players, cities and regions have done for Roma integration, an acknowledgement of their key role in this process.
This is also why we have invited national decision-makers from European Member States and from enlargement countries to join us today. I am calling on them today to renew their commitments so as to make further progress on Roma integration and build partnerships with those that are active locally.
I hope that all of them will heed my call.
Because there is still a lot of work ahead in order to achieve Roma integration on the ground. The process is now in motion. We need to ensure that it goes on and delivers results, in order to reach the Roma people directly.
I am confident that, now that this policy is well established, it will be followed by the next Commission and the next European Parliament. I am sure that the European Parliament and European Commission in the future will take up this challenge and will keep progressing on the path we are proud to have been the first to initiate.
Because through our joint efforts, we can really make a difference.
My main message today is this: we need to continue further on the path we have initiated, and this means being determined to push forward Roma integration at the local level. There are already local practices that have brought success – in the regions of Nordhrein Westfalen, Andalucia, Île de France or Attika, in the cities of Berlin, Montreuil, Kavarna, Craiova, or Sombor. And I could list so many more!
What do we learn from these examples? That we need to make sure European funds are used and are better used. That we must continue to commit all players to respecting European Union law – and that the Commission must react as we have done in the past and we must also act if some players don't respect the principles and rules of Europe. That transnational cooperation and sharing of experiences is indeed the way forward.
The outcome will be better policies and greater momentum for a struggle that is vital, not just for the Roma families involved, but for the very idea of Europe that we want to put forward: a Europe of social cohesion and economic prosperity, a Europe of freedom and a Europe of rights and dignity for all our citizens.
Thank you for your attention and I wish you a very successful conference.