Making EU funding reach the local and regional authorities to support Roma integration

Speech by FRA Director Morten Kjaerum at the 3rd European Roma Summit, Brussels, 4 April 2014.

Commissioners, Ministers,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I'm very pleased to be here and what a nice bridge we have made with the last speakers. Fundamental Rights is of the essence. I think that the package we have now creates a sound basis for the future - the detailed and comprehensive set of Commissions recommendations, the Council Recommendations adopted last December and of course the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. They all give us a powerful basis for moving forward. And we have the funding. So the road is paved; let us go down that road.

But there is one particular issue that is still missing that I would like to focus on.

It is how to ensure the resources reach the communities that need them most, how the resources are used and how communities can be involved in projects to make the best use of them.

Of course, it is vital that local authorities in municipalities make the decisions in support of Roma integration with EU funding. But it is even more important for the funds to reach the communities in which the people are dealing with deprivation, exclusion and discrimination on a very daily basis. And all too frequently, this is not happening.

What is it we are dealing with here? It is like a ‘glass floor’. We all know the term of the ‘glass ceiling’ when women can't move on career matters. I think we have here a similar feature - a ‘glass floor’ which refers to resources that cease moving down to reach those in most dire need of those resources. Unless we break through this glass floor, I'm afarid the situation of the Roma won’t improve as much as it could.

Of course, I know this will not be easy. All of us have heard the phrase “nothing should be done for Roma without Roma.” But despite this, Roma inclusion at local level often remains very minimal, if it exists at all.

We also regularly hear the phrase “the communities do not have the capacity to implement funds.” And indeed, this is very often the case. So let’s develop that capacity and create it: not through endless training sessions or seminars, but through the direct involvement of the Roma population to achieve real change on the ground.

What is the evidence for this? What I really like about the mandate of the FRA is that we have to look for what we call now "good practices" or "promising practices". So what are those promising practices? When I go through our reports and the promising practices we have identified, I ask myself what is the common denominator of these promising practices? Not surprisingly, the projects that were successful were those where the Roma has been involved from the very beginning - and also when the majority population was involved as well. So local engagement is key and it comes out of in the interviews we have done with 300 municipalities.

I think there are some very low-hanging fruit out there that are waiting to be picked. It doesn't cost much.

The Fundamental Rights Agency will contribute to this with a new project that we call Local Engagement in Roma Inclusion. It tries to assist the Roma communities in improving their participation in designing, implementating and monitoring Roma integration policies at the very local level. Where programmes have already started, we will support the Roma communities to monitor the impact of these projects. Where they have already been planned but not yet started, we will assist local Roma to become more involved in their implementation. Not surprisingly, in the best case scenario, communities will become engaged at an early enough stage to contribute to the development of the concepts, the ideas and the goals.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have to demolish the glass floor – and I'm quite certain we can! FRA regards the involvement of the Roma communities as a strategic challenge and a priority. We beleive we will only see results when the communities themselves participate in a meaningful way in deciding what is done with the funding being spent in their name.

Thank you.