Government ministers join European policy-makers in Brussels for the first EU summit to address problems faced by Roma minority.
The high-level meeting follows an EU report in July that said the ethnic minority continues to face discrimination and social exclusion despite efforts to integrate its members.
Roma leaders and human rights advocates were among 400 people attending the summit organised by the commission. The aim was threefold:
The commission has called for joint efforts by the EU and its member countries to bring Roma into mainstream society. It is urging national governments to step up efforts to help Roma access schools, housing, jobs and health services.
Between 10 and 12 million Roma -- an umbrella term for several groups including the Sinti and Travellers -- live in the EU. Historically one of Europe’s most persecuted ethnic minorities, the Roma are still the targets of racially motivated attacks. Many live in communities characterised by high levels of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy. They face deeply embedded institutional discrimination, especially in housing, education and social welfare.
In 2000-06 the EU spent €275m on projects specifically geared to Roma. A further €1bn was spent on disadvantaged groups in general, including Roma. The commission is also working to ensure that EU anti-discrimination laws are enforced and to coordinate Roma policies between member countries.
The summit was the highest-level gathering on the Roma yet held by the EU. Speakers included commission president José Manuel Barroso and French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner. The results will help the commission determine how to move forward in 2009.