Third EU Roma Summit takes place in Brussels
Progress on Romani minority integration was the main topic of the European Roma Summit today in Brussels. In addition to discussing the situation of Romani integration in the EU Member States, the 500 delegates also focused on the question of financing for integration measures.
European Commission President José Barroso noted during his presentation at the summit today that it is mainly possible to help the Romani minority integrate at local level and will only be possible through long-term efforts. Romanian President Traian Băsescu also openly described the situation of Romani people in his country to the summit.
"Society is only as strong as its weakest link," Barroso emphasized, a statement with which EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding also agreed. The EC representatives reminded those attending the summit that there are EUR 80 billion available for 2014-2010 in the European Social Fund and that at least one-fifth of that amount must be used for the fight against poverty and social exclusion.
However, there is reportedly not just a need for money, but for the thorough implementation of EU policy in this area. "Bringing this plan to life is key," Barroso said.
The Commission President said he believes politicians must stand up to growing anti-Romani prejudices and rhetoric within the public debate in the EU as well. EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion László Andor said that "The Romani population continues to face an alarming degree of discrimination in education, health care, and on the labor market, as well as fundamentally worse living conditions than their neighbors."
Andor emphasized that Romani people represent a growing, pronounced segment of the EU's future labor force. He pointed to the need for structural reforms to fight against the unemployment of Romani people in particular as well as youth in general.
"The inclusion of Romani people is not just a question of solidarity. It is also a key demographic, economic opportunity for Europe," Andor said.
When Bulgarian and Romanian Roma were deported from France last year the European Commission threatened to take action since the procedure used was inconsistent with the right of EU citizens to move freely within the area of the 28 Member States. The French Interior Minister at the time garnered criticism for saying that the Romani "lifestyle" was antagonistic to the French way of life.
"When I look at what has been perpetrated against Romani people in Europe during the past 500 years, I feel that during the last four years an enormous amount of work has been done. There is a great deal of awareness and political will coming from the top that we must change something for these 12 million Europeans," said Kumar Vishwanathan of the Life Together (Vzájemné soužití) civic association in the Czech town of Ostrava.
Vishwanathan said he believes more could not have been asked of the Barroso Commission, which has created a financial, legal and political framework on the issue. The discrimination on the labor market, persistent exclusion, problems with poor access to education and other complications faced by Roma in the EU were also documented this week through the publication of a report on the state of implementation by the EU Member States of their National Roma Integration Policies.
Romanian President Băsescu described Romani problems in his country openly today. "On behalf of my country, I would not like to assume we are the only ones in Europe responsible for this problem," he noted before listing the problems experienced by Romani people in Romania.
Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier said that the situation in this area is not improving in the Czech Republic because of the economic crisis. "The number of socially excluded localities has risen, but that doesn't mean nothing has been done," he noted.
Dienstbier said he believes previous Czech government policy was not very accommodating of the strategies that have already been designed for addressing the issue. Vishwanathan also sees the difficulties as resting at national level.
"In our country, the Czech Republic, it failed precisely [at national level]. Previous governments did not take advantage of the opportunity to draw EU subsidies or use the tools offered. It's no surprise, then, that there was no capacity at local level," Vishwanathan pointed out, adding that he believes the current Czech administration might change that.
The Czech Human Rights Minister noted that the Commission has done its best to spur the governments of the Member States to address the issue, for example, by requiring them to take integration of the Romani minority into account as part of the conditions for drawing on EU funds in the next financial period. Dienstbier believes the situation could also be aided through a comprehensive approach to solving all of the main problems, from the social situation and low employment levels, to education and the issue of housing, to issues of debt collections and loan-sharking.
News server Romea.cz has been informed that Romani activists from the Czech Republic also attended the summit. Those present in Brussels today included David Beňák, Ivana Čonková, Gabriela Hrabaňová, Martina Horváthová and Michal Miko of the Slovo 21 organization, and Jozef Miker.
Traian BASESCU, President of Romania
László ANDOR, Member of the EC in charge of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Chair Françoise LE BAIL, Director General for Justice, European Commission
Zoni WEISZ, Holocaust survivor
Ioannis MICHELAKIS, Greek Minister of Interior and Chairman of the Inter-ministerial Committee for Roma Issues, for the Greek presidency of the Council of the EU
Press conference opening remarks by Viviane REDING, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
Press conference opening remarks by László ANDOR, Member of the EC in charge of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Press conference: Q&A
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Tags:EU, Jiří Dienstbier, Summit, Aktivismus, Roma Summit
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