European countries called upon to make greater use of EU funds available to help the social integration of Roma people.
The number of Roma people living in the EU has greatly increased since many eastern European countries joined the Union in 2004 and 2007. Today, 10 to 12 million people are estimated to live in Roma communities, making them the largest ethnic minority in the European Union.
Most Roma people live in poverty on the margins of society. They have very limited access to education, jobs and medical care – a vicious circle which is difficult to break.
The European Commission has therefore set up a programme to tackle the main difficulties involved in the integration of Roma people. There are EU funds available to help, and countries are encouraged to make greater use of them.
One important tool is the European Social Fund, which at roughly 12 billion euros amounts to around 10% of the EU’s budget. The fund provides support for projects that seek to improve social cohesion in the Union.
The second European Roma summit, which is being held today – International Roma Day – and tomorrow in Cordoba, Spain, is an opportunity to take stock of the progress made so far and discuss the Commission’s new strategy.
Representatives of EU institutions, EU countries and civil society organisations, including Roma groups, are participating in the conference. World Bank Director Theodore Ahlers and the investment banker and philanthropist George Soros are also expected to attend.
Also on the agenda is the implementation by member countries of EU rules against discrimination and racism. The Commission has taken legal action against 24 EU countries which have not fulfilled their obligations in this respect. In 12 cases, the proceedings are ongoing.
A survey carried out by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2009 demonstrates just how important legislation of this kind is. Over half of the Roma people interviewed said that they had suffered discrimination during the previous 12 months.