Thank you for putting Roma inclusion on today’s agenda.
I thank all of you here today, the honourable Ms Lívia Járóka, Mr Romeo Franz and Mr Peter Pollack in particular, for the visibility that they provide for the Roma community, their commitment, and their tireless work for Roma equality, inclusion and participation, also through the organization of this debate.
I equally reiterate my thanks to the members present here today for the relentless support towards advancing the agenda on Roma inclusion, equality and participation.
I shall start by quoting Chancellor Merkel in her speech here in this parliament yesterday:
”Human and civil rights, the inviolability of human dignity, the freedom of individual, personal, political and social development, protection against discrimination and disregard, equality – equality that is not only claimed but also realized: these are the ethical and political foundations on which Europe rests …
These are the rights that apply to everyone.
They do not apply to some more and others less.
They do not apply to some always and to others only sometimes.
This is the promise of Europe that we must guarantee:
that citizens can truly be free to live their religious beliefs, their cultural or political beliefs, that they may adhere to their respective ideas of happiness or good life.”
With this Chancellor Merkel quote in our minds and in our hearts, I shall now address the Roma reality, the subject of our debate today.
As you know, Roma living in marginalized communities are some of the most vulnerable groups hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.
The already existing inequalities have been compounded .
Long-standing inequalities, discrimination, and exclusion have become more visible.
The Commission is aware of this fact, not least through a series of targeted communications, and we have done all possible to deliver prompt intervention.
We will remain on alert and will continue to intervene based on need, in line with our duty and responsibility.
The Commission responded from the very beginning of the outbreak of the crisis.
Together with Commissioners Kyriakides and Schmit, I wrote to Member States emphasizing the need for specific measures for the most vulnerable groups, including Roma, in the context of the coronavirus crisis.
We also put forward several instruments as an immediate response to the crisis, which can offer support to vulnerable groups such as Roma.
No one, and definitely not the most vulnerable, should carry more than the fair share of the burden of this epidemic.
The Roma community has not just suffered the health and economic impact of this crisis.
In some Member States, and I really regret to say, Roma persons have been also portrayed as a public health threat during the crisis.
This is shameful.
The pandemic brought to the fore and accentuated deep-rooted discrimination and hatred against these communities.
The European Commission condemns strongly all form of stigmatization, “ethnicisation” or Roma scapegoating.
All of these are contrary to EU values and go against the basic principles of our democracy.
The European Union has the legally binding tools to combat discrimination, including those based on racial or ethnic origin.
The Council Framework Decision on combatting certain forms of racism and xenophobia is the tool to fight against hate speech and hate crime, including anti-gypsyism in speech or action.
The Racial Equality Directive prohibits discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin in key aspects of life.
Roma, as an ethnic minority, fall within the protected categories of people covered by these legal tools and we have a duty to enforce them.
But we also know that legislation is one thing and how effective this is on people’s lives is another.
Legislation on its own is never enough, in any area. And thus we must do much more.
We are closely monitoring Member States’ compliance with the Directive.
Three infringement procedures are on-going against Member States.
They relate to the segregation of Roma children in mainstream schools and their overrepresentation in schools for children with intellectual disabilities.
I am actively working with the countries concerned to put an end to this situation.
And will not shy away from opening further infringement proceedings, where there is the need.
Overcoming discrimination and exclusion of Roma requires a long-term commitment and a comprehensive approach.
As I had announced, we are preparing an ambitious post-2020 initiative:
the ‘Strategic EU framework for equality, inclusion and participation of Roma up to 2030’.
This will also reflect the new needs emerging from the coronavirus crisis among marginalized Roma communities.
I plan to present the new initiative later this year .
We aim to have a strong, ambitious and all-encompassing strategy.
It is my firm belief that, building on the findings of the evaluation of the 2011-2020 Framework, we need to:
o Put a stronger focus on promoting equality for Roma by fighting antigypsyism and discrimination, hand in hand with promoting socio-economic inclusion;
o Better reflect the diversity among Roma;
o Ensure meaningful participation of, and partnership with, Roma communities, Roma civil society and all other stakeholders;
o Promote a consistent focus on Roma equality and inclusion in all mainstream policies;
o And work towards improved data collection and monitoring of progress through indicators and clear targets to ensure effective progress and promote policy learning.
The dire consequences of this pandemic on Roma communities have further accentuated the need for a renewed and strong commitment from all stakeholders to advance further together, with the full involvement of Roma people themselves.
Roma people need your and my indefatigable, relentless commitment and hard work.
I trust that together we can do a lot to change and improve our societies.
Together, we can achieve more:
more participation for our Roma communities in Europe.