In 1971, on the 8th of April, the first World Roma Congress took place in Orpington near London. Since then each year we celebrate on this day the International Roma Day. With a population of more than 10 million the Roma community is Europe’s largest transnational minority. Roma are often victims of racial and social discrimination without equal access to education, employment, housing and healthcare services. The International Roma Day is set to remind us of the commitments we made in the fight against anti-gipsysm, a day on which we underline that we stand for and uphold the human rights of one of the most vulnerable groups in Europe.
The protection of vulnerable groups is a basic value of the European Union. The European Commission has adopted in 2011 the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies, through which the Member States made an unprecedented commitment towards promoting Roma inclusion in four key areas: education, employment, healthcare and housing. Among others, this means that the Member States should ensure, as a minimum, primary school completion and to make sure that Roma children are not subject to discrimination or segregation. As well, there should be non-discriminatory access to the open labour market, self-employment and financing. If we refer to health the European Commission would like to see a Union where everyone, especially women and children, has access to quality healthcare and to preventive care and social services. The Commission called as well for non-segregation and non-discriminatory access to housing, including social housing and public utilities.
Progress at EU level varies, but we are pushing for better achievements every day. My portfolio, Regional Policy, brings its contribution to the improvement of the situation of Roma individuals all over the EU through the European Regional Development Fund. This fund can be used for the implementation of the EU Framework for Roma Integration and the National Roma Integration Strategies, for investments in childcare, healthcare, social care, education and housing facilities. In this extent I am particularly happy that for the period 2014-2020 there are more than 24 billion Euro that have been allocated to inclusive growth priorities in areas such as employment, social inclusion or education.
The European Commission is committed to tackling segregation in Member States. We provided guidance to Member States on how to make use of the EU Funds in implementing desegregation measures which should support building inclusive education and housing measures for Roma. Countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia can find this guidance useful in tackling the discrimination of Roma children in education. Roma inclusion is important as well in tackling poverty. In this direction I am content to mention that we recently launched the EU Urban Agenda, which supports cities in improving the implementation of EU and national policies on the ground, by strengthening cooperation between Commission services and planning and implementing concrete actions at EU, national, regional and city level. One priority area of the Agenda is Urban Poverty and I believe that here Roma inclusion may play an important role. Europe must be a union where diverse groups live in harmony and benefit of equal rights.