The European Commission has called on Member States to deliver on their commitments to ensure equality and to do more to improve the economic and social integration of Europe's 10 to 12 million Roma.
The call follows the Commission's progress report released today which shows that Member States need to do better in implementing their national Roma integration strategies submitted under the EU Framework for national Roma integration strategies.
The new report is accompanied by a proposal for a Recommendation addressed to EU countries which proposes to Member States on the one hand specific measures, including positive action, and on the other hand, horizontal policy measures, including local actions to improve the situation of Roma people. Member States would have two years to put concrete measures into practice to make a difference for Roma people on the ground.
Today’s Roma progress report finds that while many Member States have set up mechanisms to better coordinate their Roma integration efforts and bolster dialogue with local and regional authorities, there is room for improvement in involving civil society organisations and putting in place sound monitoring and evaluation methods to measure results. The report also finds that a majority of Member States have not allocated sufficient resources from their national budgets to implement the strategies. In addition, public authorities should do more to fight discrimination and explain the social and economic benefits of Roma integration.
Despite criticism, the report also draws attention to a series of examples of good practice from Member States, such as the regional action plan for Roma inclusion developed by the State of Berlin, cooperation between the national authorities and local actors in France, and work done in Bulgaria to better mobilise EU funds. Hungary has designed a robust system to monitor implementation of its national strategy, Spain has trained 158 police forces to deal with ethnic discrimination, and Romania has earmarked 15,000 places for Roma students in schools, universities and vocational training.
The Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation is the first EU legal instrument for Roma inclusion. The proposal would recommend Member States to take positive action to bridge the gaps between the Roma and the rest of the population. It reinforces the EU Framework for national Roma integration strategies agreed by all Member States in 2011 by setting the conditions for an effective inclusion of Roma people in the Member States. Based on previous Communications, the proposed Recommendation focuses on the four areas where EU leaders signed up to common goals for Roma integration under the EU Framework: access to education, employment, healthcare and housing. For putting in place the targeted actions, it asks Member States to allocate not only EU but also national, private and third sector funds to Roma inclusion – a key factor identified by the Commission in its evaluation of Member States' national strategies last year (IP/12/499). In addition, it offers guidance in helping Member States transform horizontal issues into actions for Roma integration , such as ensuring that the strategies go local, enforcing anti-discrimination rules, following a social investment approach, protecting Roma children and women and addressing poverty.
The proposed Recommendation suggests Member States allocate sufficient funding to their national and local strategies and action plans for Roma inclusion from any available sources. This should be facilitated by allocating an adequate share of EU cohesion policy resources to investment into people through the European Social Fund, and allocating at least 20% of this amount in each Member State on social inclusion. The proposed Recommendation also suggests that Roma integration is included in the Partnership Agreements of the Member States concerned. In order to ensure effective implementation, the capacities of local authorities and civil society organisations should be strengthened.
To enter into force, the proposal for a Council Recommendation will first need to be unanimously adopted by Member States in the Council and receive consent from the European Parliament. This will reinforce the existing political commitments of Member States. EU countries have two years time to put into practice the necessary measures to comply with the Recommendation. They will need to inform the Commission on an annual basis on how they have applied it. The Commission for its part will continue to assess progress in its own annual Roma progress reports each spring.
The findings will also feed into the European Semester process for economic policy coordination. In the May 2013 exercise, the Commission proposed country-specific recommendations (CSRs) for five Member States under the European Semester on issues related to Roma (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia). This annual cycle makes sure that Roma integration remains firmly and continuously on the European agenda.
The Country-Specific Recommendations focus on the most important structural impediments affecting progress towards the Europe 2020 targets to reduce poverty and social exclusion and to boost education in each Member State. Therefore, they also indicate funding priorities for the period 2014-2020. The on-going negotiations with Member States on the use of EU funds should ensure an appropriate allocation of funds for turning commitments into concrete actions.