Taking part in the second High Level Event on the contribution of Structural Funds to Roma integration, in Sofia, Commissioner László Andor joined representatives from the Bulgarian government, the European Parliament, Bulgarian Roma communities and NGOs to raise awareness of the opportunities offered by EU funds for Roma integration and improve the impact of funded projects.
Bulgaria has the largest Roma population in the EU by proportion of total population (just over 10%) and the second largest in terms of number. They make up one in five of new labour market entrants. Alongside social gains, greater integration of Roma communities in Bulgaria would also bring significant advantages to the Bulgarian economy.
Speaking to journalists on his way to Sofia, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion said: "Roma integration is vital from both an economic and a moral standpoint. We cannot build an inclusive Europe if we continue to ignore the needs of disadvantaged groups in society. And we cannot have high levels of employment and economic growth if we exclude a large part of the potential labour market.”
The 10-12 million Roma estimated to be living in Europe continue to face worse socio-economic conditions and enjoy fewer opportunities than the average European citizen. Roma fall below the European average in school attendance, employment and life expectancy. They face greater discrimination and often live in poor housing conditions.
The imperative to promote and facilitate Roma integration is found in the wider framework of the Europe 2020 goals: creating a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy. "The Commission has called on EU countries to draw up National Roma Integration Strategies and will be monitoring each year how these strategies are being carried out on the ground", added Mr Andor.
The High Level Event in Bulgaria will seek to raise awareness of available EU funds among stakeholders and stress the importance and benefits of accelerating the inclusion of Roma communities into wider Bulgarian society. It will also provide an opportunity to discuss how best to access the funds and share experiences and best practice on Roma integration projects.
By bringing together representatives from the EU, national and local level, including the presence of Roma community leaders and NGOs working in these areas, the event will also address the lack of capacity for applying for and managing funds and encourage coordinated action to create a continuing legacy and maintain political pressure for Roma integration.