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On International Roma Day, the European Commission has underlined the need for further efforts by the Member States to improve the situation for Roma communities in Europe.
Despite efforts in the Member States towards Roma integration, much more progress has yet to be made at national level to fight discrimination and improve access for Roma to employment, education, housing and healthcare in particular.
Roma represent a significant and growing proportion of the school age population and the future workforce. In countries like Bulgaria and Romania, one in every four to five new labour market entrants are Roma.
In a report adopted on 23 May 2012, the European Commission called on EU Member States to implement their national strategies to improve the economic and social integration of Europe's 10 to 12 million Roma. Member States developed these plans in response to the Commission's EU Framework for national Roma integration strategies adopted on 5 April 2011 which was endorsed by EU leaders soon afterwards.
In its assessment of the national Roma integration strategies, one of the primary findings was that Member States, for financial or administration reasons, are not making good use of funds. Only 12 countries have clearly identified allocated funding and presented specific amounts for Roma inclusion policy measures in their strategy papers (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Sweden).
EU Structural Funds - European Social Fund (ESF), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) - have been mobilised to boost national efforts and are an important financial lever in ensuring the translation of national Roma integration strategies into real socio-economic inclusion of Roma communities, alongside national budgets. Although the three funds total €50 billion per year, not enough benefits disadvantaged Roma communities. The Commission therefore urges the national Roma contact points to be closely involved in the planning of the use of EU Funds.
For the new funding period 2014-2020, the Commission has proposed a specific investment priority to be devoted to the integration of marginalised communities, such as Roma and ensuring requirement that an appropriate Roma inclusion strategy is in place, where EU funds are spent for this purpose. It has proposed to use at least 20% of ESF resources for social inclusion, which would be a huge improvement in countries with a large Roma population.