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Millions of Europeans of Roma origin are subject to persistent discrimination – both at individual and institutional level – and far-reaching social exclusion, says a new European Commission report released on 2 July 2008. But the tools exist to improve the situation if the EU, Member States and civil society join forces to effectively coordinate their efforts. The report comes as a response to the request by EU leaders in December 2007 to examine the policies and instruments available at EU level to improve Roma inclusion.
"Roma are one of the largest ethnic minorities in the EU, but too often they are Europe's forgotten citizens," said Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimír Špidla. "They face persistent discrimination and far-reaching social exclusion. The EU and Member States have a joint responsibility to end this situation. We have the tools to do the job – now we need to use them more effectively."
77% of Europeans are of the opinion that being Roma is a disadvantage in society, on a par with being disabled (79%).
The report concludes that there is a powerful framework of legislative, financial and policy coordination tools available and that these are increasingly used, but that there is still an implementation gap in the Member States. The EU's Structural Funds – including the European Social Fund (ESF) – and pre-accession instruments are crucial to overcoming exclusion. For example, in 2000-2006, EUR 275 million of ESF funding was devoted to projects specifically targeted at Roma, while a further EUR 1 billion was spent on vulnerable groups including Roma. The key to success is strong and effective coordination and the full involvement of civil society in the design, implementation and monitoring of EU action.
The EU has clear powers in the field of non-discrimination which it has used to legislate (equal treatment irrespective of race and ethnic origin) and to monitor the correct transposition of EU law. However, the responsibility for most central areas for Roma inclusion lies primarily with Member States (e.g. education, employment, social inclusion). In these fields the EU can only coordinate Member States' policies, and support their implementation inter alia through the Structural Funds.
The report examines the instruments – legislation, cohesion policy and non-discrimination actions (information, awareness-raising, cooperation with civil society) – and the most important policy areas for Roma inclusion – employment, social inclusion, education, public health, enlargement and gender equality. The document represents a stock-taking of existing instruments and policies, but it also identifies a number of lessons learned which allow the given framework to be used more effectively.
It complements the Commission's new policy approach to non-discrimination as a follow-up to the 2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, set out in a Communication adopted on 2 July 2008 (see IP/08/1071). Both documents will be discussed at a European Roma Summit to take place in Brussels on 16 September 2008.