Conference "Contribution of EU funds to the integration of Roma"
Integration of the Roma community: participation, partnership, responsibility
Thank you for inviting me to take part in this conference on how to ensure that European funds contribute better to Roma integration throughout Europe.
We all know that this is a complex subject that occupies an important place on Europe's current political agenda.
For that reason, before going into specifics on the potential contribution of European agricultural and rural development funds, I would like to make the following three points:
- 1. It is estimated that there are between 10 and 12 million Roma living in the European Union. These people are European citizens and have the same rights and responsibilities as any other European citizens… This is a question of European values that we should all share, irrespective of the individual problems we have to resolve in our lives. It is true that a part of the Roma community lives in very poor social and economic conditions and is faced with the problem of social exclusion. You are well aware of the European Commission's commitment to defending the fundamental rights of the Roma, in their capacity as citizens of the European Union, and to supporting their social and economic integration. However, the lion's share of responsibility for integrating the Roma lies with the Member States.
- 2. At the same time, we can all agree that it is essential that European funds are allocated and used properly to integrate the Roma community. However, we cannot expect these funds to resolve all existing problems. We are talking here about instruments that can be better used, better targeted and better coordinated, but let us not forget that these are just instruments, intended to support the implementation of solid and consistent public policies that are understood and accepted by public opinion, both at European and domestic level. Combating social exclusion is not just a question of money. It cannot be treated in the same way as measures intended to alleviate poverty. It needs to empower society to take responsibility, and that is something that depends on legislation and the coordination of policies on education, employment, social inclusion and health. It also requires a conscious effort in public communication, in order to sow the seeds of a change in mentality and to achieve that, it is necessary for those promoting such a change in mentality to believe in it themselves.
- 3. As I mentioned the issue of empowering society to make it more responsible for this issue, I would also like to mention one other aspect: the risk that the community loses its sense of responsibility. The Roma community needs committed leaders to work for the members of the community. The community must take responsibility for its own actions. In defining and implementing public policy on Roma integration, the State must work in partnership with Roma community leaders, building on the existing positive examples. Integration cannot be achieved from one's desk; you have to go into the community and work with it. I am well aware that it is much easier to say this than to do it, but without reciprocal knowledge, understanding and acceptance between society and the community, efforts at integration are in danger of amounting to nothing.
These are the aspects that I keep in mind when talking about the contribution of rural development in the coordination of European policies for Roma integration.
Even if rural development policy is not a social policy, it contributes to job creation and to improving the quality of life in rural areas.
- It supports the establishment and development of micro-enterprises, it promotes entrepreneurship, and it supports the modernisation and restructuring of agricultural holdings.
- It finances training and economic diversification programmes, and investment in the basic services needed for the rural economy and population.
- The LEADER Programme plays a particularly important role as an instrument of economic and social inclusion, by supporting local initiatives implemented by local networks, in relation to projects in which rural communities decide what their development priorities are.
These are the means by which rural development policy promotes the social and economic development of rural areas, thereby contributing to the social inclusion of less-favoured groups, including Roma communities.
However, it is up to the Member States to decide which projects receive funding. These are strategic choices made within the national rural development programme.
In some Member States, the Ministry of Agriculture held consultations with government agencies responsible for Roma integration when drawing up the national rural development programme. Roma organisations were directly involved in the preparation of the programme documents and sit on the monitoring committees for the programme.
The result is that projects that create jobs for people from disadvantaged groups, including the Roma, receive a few extra points at the evaluation stage. This is something that could be looked into by other Member States.
I will ensure that these instruments remain in place in the common agricultural policy after 2013 and I will give Member States the possibility to select and put into practice more targeted measures that better meet local needs and the needs of disadvantaged groups. More emphasis will be put on actions intended to inform and train disadvantaged groups to improve their ability to take socio-economic initiatives, so that they are better equipped to compete with more dynamic players in rural areas.
However, the cornerstone of any solution leading to greater integration of the Roma community is the participation of Roma community leaders and organisations in every stage of this process, as equal partners with equal responsibility for the impact of such programmes.
Thank you for your attention!