Yesterday a very important reunion prevented me from attending the 9th meeting of the European Platform for Roma inclusion. I deeply regret not having been able to make it. I asked a member of my cabinet to deliver my message and I also want to share my thoughts and feelings on this very important topic here with you.
Organised under the patronage of Commissioner Vĕra Jourová, the European Platform for Roma inclusion contributes to making European and national stakeholders more sensitive to Roma needs but it is also the occasion to share Roma success stories, the kind of stories you don't find out about in the media and the kind of stories I am so keen on hearing and sharing.
As a matter of fact, a few months ago, I went to a very special event at the European Parliament, where I paid a tribute to my friend, Roma MEP Damian Draghici whose life story follows an exceptional integration pathway coming from the streets of his home city, through some of Romania’s and Europe’s most popular concert halls and eventually to the seats of the European Parliament.
And there are many other stories like Damian Draghici's, heart-warming stories which can bring the greatest gift of all - the gift of hope. His story confirms that the hope of social mobility, on which our society is founded, is real. It is more than just a dream.
And our Policy can help turning this dream into reality; as we will soon be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), let me present some of the great things that European Funds have done for social inclusion.
During the latest period, from 2007 to 2013 the Funds have supported lots of projects which have changed the lives of thousands of Roma people. But this is only a small part of what will be possible in 2014-2020.
Capitalizing on our experience, with a new legal framework for Cohesion Policy which require some Member States to implement measures for Roma inclusion before they can be entitled to receive EU funds, we can now further step up our efforts for a better integration of the Roma population.
Training, education, infrastructure, equipment, housing… All of these may be necessary for better integration, and all of these will be supported, if so needed. For that we absolutely need that managing authorities, in charge of selecting and implementing EU-funded project on the ground, to exploit the potential that these programmes and strategies are offering, that is to say high-quality projects which actually achieve integration of Roma people.
I want to say it clearly: integrating one of Europe’s most vulnerable groups, the Roma, protecting Roma children from the plight of growing up in institutions, and offering them access to healthcare and education, and a fair chance to fulfil their potential in life, are some of the priorities of my mandate as Commissioner for Regional Policy.
And I want all governments to know, but in particular the governments of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, that those Member States who will not just pay lip service to the Roma inclusion agenda, but will use European Funds for successful inclusion projects of vulnerable Roma groups, those Member States will always have in me a partner and a friend.
So we have more success stories to share in the future.