At its third round (the first summit occurred in September 2008 in Brussels while the second two years later in Cordoba), the Summit hosted notably the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, Vice-President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Viviane Reding, Commissioner László Andor (Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion), President of Romania Traian Băsescu and holocaust survivor Toni Weisz.
Mr. Barroso inaugural speech praised the actions taken at EU level on Roma integration underlying that for the first time in 2013 a legal instrument has been adopted to ensure the social inclusion of Roma in Europe (Council recommendation on effective Roma integration measures in the member states adopted in 2013 on the 10th of December).
The European Union’s effort toward Roma integration relies on a three “pillars” strategy: a coherent set of national initiatives supervised by the European Commission with its annual report on the implementation of Roma strategies, a EU legal framework put in place by the Council Recommendation, and last but not least a “reinforced financial pillar” consisting in 80 billion euro allocated to social inclusion through the European Social Fund.
He made clear that effective measure could only be implemented at a local level by regional and communal authorities, hence single countries’ efforts and the effective use of European funds will be essential.
“Society is only strong when it cares after its most vulnerable” he finally stated.
President of Romania Trajan Băsescu expressed his disenchantment with the state of play of Roma inclusion policies: “excuse me if I am not equally optimistic as Mr. Barroso” he stated, asserting that European measures taken in the past four years had limited effects, an ineffectiveness that has its roots in the lack of political will of member states on the Roma issue.
According to Băsescu contributing to poor results of political initiatives is also the lack of knowledge of Roma culture in its diversity whereas the simplifying depiction of Roma as a coherent cultural and social entity is detrimental to their effective inclusion in society.
In a compelling speech Holocaust survivor Toni Weisz drew attention to the rise of racism in Europe, mentioning the vexation and social segregation Roma and Sinti people face in Hungary and Slovakia. “Is history repeating itself?” he caustically asked the public.
To address the poor housing conditions faced by Roma and Sinti communities in Europe he strongly endorsed the establishment of a Roma housing fund, an initiative initially proposed by the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma.
Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding highlighted the work the Commission has done to put the Roma issue on the agenda: back in 2010 member states were not politically interested on the subject while now all 20 member states are engaged in the implementation of a national strategy on Roma integration annually evaluated by a Commission report.
On this issue it is necessary to recall the controversy over the repatriation of Roma carried out by the French government since July 2010 that led to the deportation of thousands of gypsies to their country of origin and the following harsh reaction of Commissionaire Reding who deplored the French Government and urged for legal actions to be taken by the Commission.
“Basic human rights are for all citizens”, she finally stated after quoting verbatim Mr. Barroso on the imperative duty for societies to protect the most vulnerable.
The EU Commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion László Andor presented the financial framework supporting the policies of the EU on Roma inclusion. Over the next seven years over 70 billion euro will be allocated by the European Social Fund, 16 of which should be dedicated to social inclusion to benefit Roma and other disadvantaged social groups.
The role and responsibility of member states is crucial: it is through them that funds translate into actions, thus the importance of effective access to funds and their proper use.
On this issue a recent article by Le Monde drew attention to the limited efforts Romania has put in place to effectively employ EU funds: of the 3,7 billion euro allocated to Romania through the European Social Fund in the period 2007-2013 only 20% have been actually spent for social inclusion policies.
Besides the political commitment demonstrated by EU representatives at the Summit, the current conditions of Roma people in remains alarming as prejudice and intolerance is still rife in the EU.
On the occasion of the International Roma Day on the 8th April Amnesty International issued a Report denouncing the inability of EU member states to stand against violence and discrimination toward Roma.
France, Greece and Czech Republic have been object of severe criticism by the British ONG that dedicated three country-specific chapters of its report shading light on the precarious situation Romani people face in these countries: harassment perpetuated by police officers in Greece and France, Anti-Roma protests and the rise of racist attacks in Czech Republic.
In any case, with European elections approaching and extremist parties everywhere on the rise the question of whether the European Union and its member states will keep their commitments remains unanswered.
To know more:
– European Roma Summit Agenda: EN
– European Roma Summit audiovisual materials : EN
– Report on the implementation of the EU framework for National Roma integration strategies: EN
– Council recommendation on effective Roma integration measures in the member states: EN
– Amnesty International Report on discrimination against Roma in the EU: EN
– Dossier ROM de Nea say