Reliable data are hard to come by, but estimates by the Council of Europe (see annex) show that almost all EU countries have Roma communities of varying sizes. They form a significant proportion of the population in Bulgaria (around 10%), Slovakia (9%), Romania (8%), Hungary (7%), Greece, the Czech Republic and Spain (all 1.5-2.5%).
Around a third of these live in the countries of the western Balkans, such as Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and in Turkey.
What is the European Platform for Roma Inclusion?
The European Platform for Roma inclusion (or European Roma Platform) was created to help coordinate and develop policies for Roma integration and stimulate exchanges among EU Member States, international organisations and Roma civil society. It aims to make existing policy processes more coherent and facilitate synergies. The first meeting was held in April 2009 ( IP/09/635 ).
How does the Platform support Roma integration?
The Platform’s role was enlarged and reinforced when European leaders agreed an EU-level Framework for national Roma integration strategies in June 2011 ( IP/11/789 ). This was based on a proposal put forward by the European Commission in April 2011 ( IP/11/400 ).
Under the EU Framework, each of the EU’s 27 countries will set out how they intend to improve the situation of the most vulnerable Roma communities living on their territory. Member States will have to address four key areas for better social and economic integration – education, employment, healthcare and housing – and set out measures proportionate to their Roma population . It is also about ensuring that Roma people’s fundamental rights are respected. Governments have until the end of 2 011 to submit their national strategies. The Commission will then assess the plans and report back next spring.
The EU Framework reinforced the role of the European Roma Platform by making it the main forum for discussing and exchanging policy approaches to promote Roma inclusion. In this respect, the Platform can play a crucial role in helping Member States develop or up-date their national strategies for Roma integration – as they are required to do under the EU Framework.
The Platform also allows representatives of the Roma communities to play a direct role in EU-level discussions and exchanges on Roma integration policies. International organisations and other stakeholders working in the field are equally involved in the process.
Finally, the Platform will provide the Commission with feedback on the results of national efforts on the ground through the voice of Roma civil society.
What will be discussed at this meeting of the Platform?
The meeting that will take place today and tomorrow is specifically aimed at helping Member States prepare their national strategies for Roma integration under the EU Framework process. It will focus on the contributions of Member States, civil society and international organisations to making the EU Framework a success.
Member States will discuss the ir challenges and successes in preparing their national strategies; civil society organisations will discuss how they can provide a coordinated input into the Framework’s process; and international organisations will exchange views on their contribution and possible synergies.
As such , the meeting provides a unique opportunity for policy exchange and discussion before Member States are expected to present their strategies to the Commission.
How will the EU framework help the Roma?
The EU framework develops a targeted approach for a more effective response to Roma exclusion by setting EU-wide goals for integrating Roma, in education, employment, health and housing.
It will make a tangible difference to Roma people’s lives over the next decade by focusing on Roma in national, regional and local integration policies in a clear and specific way, addressing them with explicit measures to prevent and compensate for the multiple disadvantages they face.
Member States will be asked to submit national Roma strategies to the Commission by the end of 2011, specifying how they will contribute to achieving the overall goals, including setting national targets and allowing for sufficient funding (national, EU and other) to deliver them.
Finally, the Framework strategy proposes solutions for using EU funds more effectively and lays down foundations for a robust mechanism to monitor results.
What are the specific EU-level goals?
The goals address the four main areas for improving social and economic integration for Roma, all of which are primarily national policy areas:
Education: ensuring that all Roma children complete primary school;
Employment: cutting the employment gap between Roma and other citizens;
Health: reducing the gap in health status between the Roma and the general population;
Housing: closing the gap in access to housing and public utilities such as water and electricity.
How will the Commission monitor progress?
The Commission will report annually to the European Parliament and to the Council on progress on the integration of the Roma population in Member States and on the achievement of the Roma integration goals.
It will base its monitoring notably on:
The results of the Roma household survey regularly carried out by the Fundamental Rights Agency, the United Nations Development Programme in cooperation with the World Bank.
National reform programmes in the framework of the EU 2020 Strategy, in particular for those countries with a high share of Roma population.
Ongoing work within the Open Method of Coordination in the field of social policies.
Member States contributions based on their own monitoring systems which national authorities are requested to include in their national Roma integration strategies.
It will also take into account the work of the European Platform for Roma Inclusion.
How do EU policies support Roma integration?
Many of the most important areas for improving Roma integration – such as education, employment, health and housing – are national or regional responsibilities. But the EU has an important role to play in coordinating action by Member States. The EU can lend support with powerful policy and financial tools such as European legislation against discrimination, policy coordination, common integration goals and structural funding.
EU legislation (the Race Equality Directive) obliges Member States to give equal access to ethnic minorities, such as the Roma, in education, housing, health and employment. Nevertheless, these rules need to be well implemented and applied in practice in order to offer effective protection to individuals, and if need be, access to justice in cases of discrimination.
Several EU funds are available to Member States to support national Roma inclusion policies , namely the European Social Fund (ESF), European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). The EU already co-finances projects for the Roma in sectors like education, employment, microfinance and equal opportunities (in particular equality between men and women).
For the forthcoming financial period the Commission has proposed an increase in the ESF budget of at least 7.5%, amounting to at least €84 billion over seven years. Furthermore, the ESF of the future will have a stronger social dimension. The Member States will be required to allocate at least 20% of their European Social Fund resources to social inclusion. This could significantly increase funding in some countries with big Roma minorities where only 5 to 10% of EFS is currently spent on social inclusion.
What is the role of Member States?
Member States are primarily responsible for Roma integration, because the key areas which are the biggest challenge for Roma inclusion remain mostly national prerogatives. These include access to quality education, to the job market, housing and essential services, and healthcare.
P olicies in these fields are often handled by regional and local authorities, depending on the country. This means different levels of government have a joint responsibility for Roma inclusion and need to cooperate closely to achieve results.
For example, the EU makes funds available to support inclusion and employment of Roma, among other things, but Member States and regions are responsible for allocating and implementing funding for specific integration projects.
What are the main areas where Roma face exclusion?
In education , Roma children have lower attainments and often face discrimination and segregation in schooling. Although the situation differs between EU countries, a survey by the Open Society Institute in six EU countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia) found that only 42% of Roma children complete primary school, compared to an average of 97.5% for the general population across the EU as a whole.
This has a knock-on effect in the labour market, where young Roma are less well-equipped and less qualified to find a job. The Europe 2020 strategy sets a headline target of 75% of people in the EU aged 20-64 to be in employment, compared to a current rate of 68.8%. For Roma, the employment rate is significantly lower, with a gap of around 26 percentage points according to World Bank research covering Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Romania, and Serbia.
In health , Roma have a life expectancy which is 10 years below the European average of 76 for men and 82 for women and a child mortality rate that is significantly higher than the EU average of 4.3 per thousand births. Indeed, the United Nations’ Development Programme research in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic put Roma infant mortality rates there at 2-6 times higher than those for the general population, depending on the country. These outcomes reflect poorer living conditions, reduced access to quality healthcare and higher exposure to risks. There is also evidence that Roma communities are less well informed about health issues and can face discrimination in access to healthcare.
Roma also face significant gaps as compared to the average European in terms of access to housing and essential services . While between 72% and 100% of EU households are connected to a public water supply, the rate is much lower among Roma. Research by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency points to wider problems in accessing housing, both private and public. This in turn affects Roma health and broader integration prospects.
What are the benefits of better Roma integration?
In addition to better respect for the fundamental rights of a large number of EU citizens and greater social cohesion, better Roma integration can bring considerable economic benefits.
The Roma represent a growing share of the working age population, with an average age of 25 compared to the EU average of 40. Some 35.7% of Roma are under 15, compared to 15.7% of the EU population. Roma also form 1 in 5 new labour market entrants in Bulgaria and Romania.
According to a recent research by the World Bank 1 , full Roma integration in the labour market could bring economic benefits estimated at around €0.5 billion annually for some countries.
What about Roma outside the EU?
To improve the situation of the estimated 3.8 million Roma in the western Balkans and Turkey, the Commission intends to step up support for integration in the context of EU enlargement.
The Commission will also closely monitor the economic and social situation of Roma in its enlargement progress reports for each country.
We remain hopeful, though more cynical with the passing of each year of the 'DECADE OF THE ROMA IN EUROPE'.