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Ladies and gentlemen,
I feel privileged to be able to address such an influential audience on the
extremely important question of the Roma. If we look at available data, I think
that we would all agree: there are still a great many barriers standing on the
road to equality for Roma.
In 2008 the Agency interviewed 3,500 Roma in seven Member States
(Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania and
Slovakia). We asked about whether they had experienced discrimination in the
preceding five years.
• 60% had experienced discrimination when looking for work.
• 25% had experienced discrimination from health care personnel,
• 19% from school personnel,
• and 18% from a landlord or housing agency.
Slovakia found itself a few percentage points above the average for
discrimination in the area of work and health care, and slightly below for
housing and education.
Ladies and gentlemen, I focus on these four areas because they are essential
foundations for constructing the well-being and full participation in society of
any individual. This is clearly underscored in the European Commission’s
Communication on An EU Framework for National Roma Integration
Strategies. In the Communication the Agency is requested to assist Member
States to assess the impact of their policies on Roma integration, and our work
is already well underway.
Today I would like to draw from the expertise and research of the Agency to
outline four elements that I think are essential if we are to achieve access on an
equal basis for Roma to education, employment, health care and housing.
• Firstly, by digging deeply and widely with research.
• Secondly, by adapting solutions to the root causes of problems.
• Thirdly, by taking a holistic approach.
• Fourthly, by taking a participatory approach.
1). Turning to my first point: we need thorough research to make sure that
we understand the root causes of problems facing the Roma. A colleague of
mine recently went to the doctor complaining of a pain in his heal. After
examining him the doctor asked him to remove his shirt. My colleague
protested – ‘No, not there. The pain is in my heal.’ The doctor replied: ‘Yes.
But the problem is in your back.’
Now, many of the problems facing the Roma are due to discrimination, which
is widespread. And this needs to be addressed. But some of the symptoms that
we are talking about today may result from broader issues of poverty and social
exclusion. And these socio-economic issues affect poorer sections of society in
general, without regard for ethnicity.
But we can only know this by conducting a thorough examination: by digging
deeper and wider with our research. For example, the Agency’s ongoing survey
on discrimination against the Roma does not only look at Roma communities
themselves. It also surveys non-Roma communities that live nearby to compare
their socio-economic position, such as employment status, level of education,
healthcare, and income, as well as the quality of accommodation that they
enjoy, public services, infrastructure and sanitation.
2). This brings me to my second point. Different problems call for different
Where research reveals that difficulties are caused by broader socio-economic
factors that confront the poorer population as a whole, we need to ensure that
solutions are adapted accordingly. For example, in 2009 the Agency conducted
a number of case studies on Roma housing projects. We reported on the
construction of the so-called Co-Existence Village in Ostrava in the Czech
Republic where families from Roma and the majority population were housed
in a mixed complex of homes.
Here, inadequate housing, which faced a broader section of society, was dealt
with as a general social issue, rather than just a question of discrimination.
Taking an inclusive approach to social problems has several advantages. On
one hand, in the context of housing, it can contribute to desegregation. On the
other hand, it can prevent resentment from building up among parts of the
majority population who are in a similarly difficult position.
At the same time where we find discrimination this still needs to be tackled
head-on. And yes, there are some signs of progress.
For instance, with regards to employment. Interviews conducted by the Agency
with employers and trade unions organisations across the EU found a company
in Slovakia, US Steel Košice, that actively recruited Roma in a nearby village,
and they made up two thirds of the workforce in 2009. We found a taxi
company in Sofia and around one quarter of their drivers were Roma. But these
stories do not represent the overall situation, which is one where employment
rates among Roma are much lower than for the general population.
Similarly, with regards to education, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for
Human Rights recently noted a fall in the number of reform schools attended
mainly by Roma pupils in Bulgaria. Some Member States, like Slovakia, have
legislation in place expressly banning segregation and discrimination in
education and allowing for free pre-school education.
But segregation in education remains a problem. Even if we have policies and
legislation in place allowing access to mainstream education for Roma they are
still overrepresented in so-called special schools. And when they are inside the
mainstream system they often face prejudice from other pupils, their parents
and teaching staff, and their homes are often far from schools, making it
difficult to travel. And these factors can then contribute to higher drop-out
rates. For example, in Slovakia it appears that while less than 40% of Roma
have 10 years or more of education, this is the case for almost 90% of the
population as a whole.
3). And this leads me to my third point, which is the need for a holistic
approach to promoting the social and economic position of Roma. If we
are trying to give life to a tree we do not give it only water for a month, then
only sunlight for a month, then only fertiliser for a month. It would die. So we
add all these things at the same time.
Similarly, we cannot deal with housing, employment, education or health care
in isolation. Each affects the other. Each depends on the other. And they must
be promoted simultaneously which is also set out in the Commission’s
The Agency’s case studies on Roma housing projects found examples of
successful integrated projects. For example, some housing projects included
arrangements for pre-school and afterschool support for children which helped
them to enter and remain in the mainstream education system. Some housing
projects also included support for employment such as: vocational training,
training in how to write a CV or perform in a job interview. This contributed
towards employment and income security, allowing tenants to keep up their
rental payments and hold on to their new homes.
4). Finally, we need to ensure adequate participation in policy development
by Roma themselves, but also by other actors involved including central
and local government, NGOs, international organisations, the European
Commission and lending institutions.
On the one hand the participation of Roma, for instance, in the design and
construction of new housing can ensure that buildings are culturally adequate.
The Agency did come across some examples of accommodation designed
without consultation according to romantic stereotypes of Roma lifestyles,
which were actually impractical to inhabit or furnish.
Participation of beneficiaries can also help to offset the costs of housing
projects through providing construction labour. The Agency found examples of
this in its housing case studies on projects in Slovakia.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Collectively, our role is to clear the barriers standing on the road of
opportunity. Sometimes these barriers face the Roma only, sometimes they
may face broader elements of society.
In clearing the road we must be careful not to stigmatise the Roma as hopeless,
helpless victims. Some of the examples I have given show clearly that where
doors are opened, positive results walk right in.
We have the opportunity to open some of those doors over the next few days.
Thank you for your attention.But more importantly participation of the Roma acknowledges that, just like
everyone else, they have the right to control their own lives and determine their
The participation of other actors is also important for two reasons. Firstly,
national and European policy makers must adopt a joined-up approach to
governance, to support authorities at the local level with sufficient technical
capacity, knowledge and resources to implement human rights commitments.
Secondly, because of funding, which always comes from a mixture of
organisations. And these include banks, which make loans to local authorities
or to NGOs, or might make micro-loans to families to pay for furniture. It also
includes drawing on EU structural funds which the Commission has
emphasised are currently underused by the Member States.