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Members of the Congress,
I am honoured to address you today and to launch, together with President van Staa, the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion.
Yesterday, in his address to you, Secretary General Jagland outlined the vision on how to counter several preoccupying trends in Europe, such as the rise in extremism and hate speech, new nationalism, vilification of immigration and any other form of "otherness".
You will not have failed to notice the importance which was put on the need to address the situation of the Roma in Europe. Their situation is a shame for this continent and a shame for all of us.
Roma are fellow Europeans. There are no inherent reasons why a Roma child should not achieve as well as any other child. Yet the blunt statistics show that they are far more likely to be excluded from school and under-perform in their education.
There are no inherent reasons why a Roma should not be as healthy as any other. Yet their life expectancy is ten years below the general average for men and 12 years less for women.
Over the past several years, the Council of Europe has put a lot of energy and resources into improving the situation of Roma in Europe and promoting Roma inclusion and full respect of their human rights. Concrete action is and will remain at the heart of the Council of Europe work.
In October 2010, the member States of the Council of Europe adopted the Strasbourg Declaration on Roma.
The declaration acknowledged the crucial role of local and regional authorities in ensuring the inclusion of Roma. It was not accidental that the Council of Europe started to work at the local level through its programme of training Roma mediators to work in local communities – the ROMED programme.
Through this joint programme of the Council of Europe and the European Commission, over 1,000 Roma mediators in more than 20 countries have been already trained. Hundreds of local and regional authorities have been associated in the training sessions. As we advanced with the programme, we saw important gaps and a huge need to strengthen the capacities of municipalities and regions to develop effective policies for Roma inclusion.
It was against this background that the Summit of Mayors was convened in September 2011, which ultimately led to the decision to create the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion.
I am happy to see that sixteen months later the time has now come to launch the Alliance.
The Alliance is a great example of transversality of the work of the Council of Europe. The initiative received support from the Committee of Ministers and will continue to be carried out in close co-operation with the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma issues and with other bodies within the Council of Europe.
This transversality should however not be limited to the boundaries of this organisation. It should involve other partners and organisations. I am therefore very pleased to hear about the interest and the support to the Alliance expressed by the European Commission.
It is important for the European and international organisations to work together in order to mobilise strong action at local and regional level.
The overwhelming majority of the member States of the Council of Europe have adopted well-thought through and broad national strategies for Roma inclusion. It is high time to ensure that these strategies translate also into local action.
Many municipalities are committed to that. What they need is support, expertise and resources. We must help them get it, offer all the backing they need and mobilise others to follow suit.
This is why I welcome the idea of setting up an international coalition for Roma inclusion.
A coalition which will have the Alliance as its operational pillar and which will bring together the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank as well as the Council of Europe Development Bank. Only by pooling our resources and ideas together we have a chance to succeed.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the 21st century and on the continent that invented the concept of human rights, Roma continue to live in appalling conditions, which violate many Council of Europe standards, attend segregated schools and classes, have no access to services and are victims of hate speech. Anti-Gypsyism and racial violence towards Roma is on the rise.
We, all of us together, have the duty not to fail this initiative.
I count very much on your support, to make sure that the Alliance of Cities and Regions finds its right place in the work on Roma inclusion.
I want the Alliance of Cities and Regions to fight against poverty and not against poor people.
I wish the Alliance all the best in this work and you can count on my support and determination to make sure that it is a success.