Making a tangible difference to Roma people's lives

Speech to the EU Symposium for OSCE Ambassadors, Vienna

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to wish you a warm welcome to this Symposium!

Roma experience problems in accessing rights and services in most areas of life. We all know this. This is often based on centuries-old prejudice and discrimination. We all know this too.

In today’s Symposium you will hear and discuss what has been done to improve the situation in the OSCE region from different actors. This will allow us to assess where Europe stands on “making a tangible difference to Roma people’s lives”, as the Commission communication on Roma puts it.

The Danish EU Presidency, the EU Delegation to the International Organisations in Vienna and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency have co-organised this Symposium to bring key international players together, who are working on improving the situation of Roma. As you will hear, a lot of innovative work is taking place.

You will hear today from work done by:

  • the OSCE,
  • the Council of Europe,
  • the European Union
  • the Decade of Roma Inclusion,

and also by the

  • UNDP,
  • the Open Society foundation,
  • and the Fundamental Rights Agency.

Of course, in addition to this, equally valuable work is being done at national and especially at the local level by governments, but also by civil society.

However, all this innovative work so far has not yet brought about the change that we all expected. We realise that past attempts to improve the situation of many Roma were not sufficient. Changing laws to promote equal treatment and discourage discrimination were not sufficient. Even court decisions of the European Court of Human Rights confirming that Roma suffer segregated education were not sufficient. Significant investments through the use of the EU’s Structural Funds for growth and jobs to also benefit the Roma were not sufficient. Not by themselves.

We all have to acknowledge that each of these is important and needed. Yet, they did not bring about a measurable, significant and sustainable improvement. For many Roma across Europe today racism persists, discrimination persists, poverty persists, social exclusion and segregation persist.

The results of the recent household survey clearly show this. This survey was conducted by the FRA together with UNDP and the World Bank in 11 EU MS and 6 neighbouring countries in the Balkans and in Moldova. It provides us with valuable data for over 84,000 Roma. And for the first time, Roma and non-Roma living nearby were interviewed – people who basically share the same socio-economic conditions. We did this to test the assumption that the so-called “Roma issues” are in reality simply poverty and social exclusion issues that affect both Roma and their non-Roma neighbours in the same way.

The results painted a different picture... Roma, in all countries surveyed, east and west, rich and poor, were worse off than their neighbours. Poverty, social exclusion, unemployment clearly affect Roma much more than their non-Roma neighbours. And to a large extent this is linked to discrimination and unequal treatment, which perpetuates the vicious circle of poverty and social exclusion: exclusion from education leads to exclusion from employment, which leads to increased poverty, which forces people to live in poor or segregated housing which, in turn, affects their educational and employment opportunities, as well as their health. And the vicious circle starts again and again.

To break this circle of poverty, social exclusion and discrimination, we need an integrated approach that promotes access to housing, access to employment, access to education and access to healthcare simultaneously.

Ladies and gentlemen, marginalisation does not just carry a social cost. It also carries an economic cost. Skills and talents remain undeveloped. Skills and talents which our economies could benefit from. In today’s critical economic conditions, can Europe realistically afford not to promote the full social and economic inclusion of all its peoples?

The EU and its Member States have a special responsibility towards the Roma, who live in all Member States, candidate countries and potential candidate countries. The Charter of Fundamental Rights sets out the values on which the EU is based. These values need to be translated into practice in order to improve the situation of the Roma people.

Let’s see today how far we have come and discuss how we progress.

Thank you very much for your attention.