Last updated: 12 November 2003






1. Specialist Group on Roma, Gypsies and Travellers (MG-S-ROM)
Since its creation in September 1995, the Specialist Group on Roma/Gypsies (MG-S-ROM) has been the first permanently established body of the Council of Europe to monitor the situation of Roma/Gypsies in Europe. Comprising permanent and non-permanent members appointed by member States, it advises the Committee of Ministers, through the European Committee on Migration (CDMG), on issues relating to Roma/Gypsies. For example, it was behind the Council of Ministers Recommendation (2000) 4 on the education of Roma/Gypsy children in Europe and Recommendation (2001) 17 on improving the economic and employment situation of Roma/Gypsies and Travellers in Europe.

In 2002 MG-S-ROM broadened its terms of reference to include Travellers more clearly.

The Group’s composition is currently set at 13 permanent members (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Ukraine). To these may be added a number of countries which regularly participate in the Group’s work at their own expense –- Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Norway and Switzerland –- some of which (Croatia, Ireland) have expressed an interest in becoming permanent members. The expenses of the 8 Roma representatives or experts invited in the light of the meeting’s agenda are also covered. Lastly, a number of international institutions/organisations (EC, OSCE, UNHCR, UNDP, World Bank) participate in the Group’s work, as do international NGOs with observer status at the Council of Europe (ERRC, PER, etc.).

On 24-25 March 2003 the Specialist Group on Roma, Gypsies and Travellers (MG-S-ROM) held one of its two statutory meetings a year in Strasbourg. The second will, as an exception, again take place in Strasbourg on 27-28 November (although it is the custom for one of the two regular meetings to be held in another member State).

In 2003 the Group continued its work of developing a number of draft recommendations, including the following:

    - A draft recommendation on the free movement and encampment of Travellers in Europe;

    - A draft recommendation on improving the housing conditions of Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities in Europe;

    - A draft recommendation on policies for Roma/Gypsies in Europe, which will ultimately put forward guidelines relating to the Roma/Gypsy population;

    - A draft recommendation on access to health care for Roma and Travellers.

The Group also addressed a number of what it deemed to be priority subjects in 2003:

    - The situation of Travellers and the “renomadisation of some Roma communities” with, in particular, the adoption in March of a draft outline for a study on the social and economic rights of nomadic populations and an initial questionnaire on the social rights of these populations, the replies to which will be studied by freelance consultants.

    - Implementation of Roma policies/programmes at local level, with the participation of MG-S-ROM members in a meeting organised jointly with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) in Rome on 15 October. At the conclusion of this meeting, which discussed co-operation and relations between local authorities and Romani communities, it was decided to set up a European network of cities wishing to co-operate locally with regard to integration of Roma and reception of Travellers, on the basis, amongst other things, of the positive experiences registered by a number of programmes (RrAJE, Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, etc.).

    - Issues relating to Romani language and culture, with the participation of MG-S-ROM members in an international seminar on the cultural identities of Roma, Gypsies, Travellers and related groups (Strasbourg, 15-16 September). The discussions bore on the influence of traditional customs and values on social relationships inside and outside these communities, on similarities and differences between the different groups, on the denomination of groups (including at international level), and on the impact of socio-economic conditions on the cultural identity and integration of Roma in European societies.

Following the 2002 adoption by the Committee of Ministers of the revised terms of reference for MG-S-ROM, which include a methodology for monitoring the situation of Roma/Gypsies in member States, in particular by means of visits, the Group has already decided to visit Slovakia and Germany and will add to its list in the light of the timetables of other Council of Europe bodies (ECRI, Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention, Expert Committee of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, Human Rights Commissioner).

The Specialist Group also held an extraordinary meeting on 17 September to give an opinion on the Finnish initiative (see 2 below) and more specifically on the recent Franco-Finnish proposal to set up a European forum for Roma and Travellers. The opinion was generally in favour, although the Group raised a number of questions relating to the financing, composition and representativeness of the forum and its prospective members, as well as the future relations between the forum and MG-S-ROM.

2. Work on setting up a European forum for Roma and Travellers

In January 2001 the President of Finland, Mrs Tarja Halonen, suggested in her address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that “serious consideration be given to a need to create for the Roma some kind of consultative assembly to represent them on the pan-European level.

Further to this proposal, an exploratory group consisting of Roma/Gypsy and Traveller experts and of representatives from pan-European Roma NGOs (IRU, RNC, GATIEF, etc.) was instructed to examine the feasibility of this project. It held five meetings between late 2001 and October 2002, at the conclusion of which it adopted a report and recommendations on such a forum’s structure, functions and possible links with various Council of Europe bodies and other international organisations.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, at the 816th meeting of its Deputies on 13 November 2002, “instructed its Rapporteur Group on Social and Health Questions (GR-SOC) to continue its work relating to the Finnish initiative concerning a “European Forum for Roma”, bearing in mind its topical nature, and to submit proposals concerning suitable follow-up for this initiative”.

GR-SOC, meeting on 11 December 2002, expressed itself in favour of setting up an open working group (GT-ROMS) to examine the various issues involved in setting up a forum for Roma and Travellers.

3. Programme on policies for Roma, Gypsies and Travellers

The “Project on Roma/Gypsies in Europe” was set up in 1996 on the basis of voluntary contributions from various member States. Renamed “Programme on policies for Roma, Gypsies and Travellers” in late 2002, it aims to assist and support governments in developing and implementing policies for Roma, Gypsies and Travellers. Bilateral and multilateral activities are undertaken as part of the programme, often in collaboration with other organisations.

In 2003 the programme received a voluntary contribution from Finland of some €200 000 (a similar amount has just been received for the programme’s 2004 activities).

Five priority areas were defined for the programme in 2003:

a) Activities aimed at evaluation of national policies for Roma and/or Travellers and their implementation at local level, for example:

    Round tables on a Roma strategy in Albania (9-10 January and 26 September);
    Round table on a national Roma strategy in Croatia (Zagreb, 11-12 March);
    European conference on national policies for Roma, Gypsies and Travellers (Granada, Spain, 19-20 May);
    Colloquy on integration of Roma in the labour market (Athens, 17-18 June);
    Joint meeting with CLRAE in Rome on 15 October (see above).

b) Activities promoting representation and participation of Roma at local, regional, national and European levels, including meetings on the European Forum for Roma in March, June, July, October and November.

c) Roma training workshops for:

    Roma NGOs in Albania (7-8 January and 24-25 September);
    Members of the International Roma Women’s Network (3-4 February and 27-28 March);
    Lawyers, on cases affecting Roma (with DG II, 16-18 June);
    Members of the Roma Advisory Council in Bosnia-Herzegovina (in progress);
    Roma NGOs on the collective complaints system of the European Social Charter.

d) Exchange of information and good practice through multilateral activities:

    Round table on harmonisation of teaching materials in Romani (26-27 May);
    Seminar on the cultural identities of Roma and related groups (15-16 September).

e) Contribution to joint programmes – see Sections 4 and 5 below.

4. Joint project on Roma women and access to public health care

The partnership between the Council of Europe, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) and the Office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (OSCE-HCNM) for the project on Roma women and access to public health care resulted in the organisation of an international conference on this subject on 11 and 12 September in Strasbourg. It provided the opportunity for the consultant who had visited some fifteen member States to present her recommendations and her report “Breaking the Barriers – Romani Women and Access to Public Health Care” to the member States and international organisations present. The International Roma Women’s Network (IRWN), set up in Strasbourg at the beginning of the year (February) as an offshoot of the project, played an active part in this conference. The Conference’s recommendations should be included as far as possible in the draft recommendation on access to public health care under discussion in MG-S-ROM. Moreover, continuing close attention will be given in 2004 to the issue of reproductive rights and forced sterilisation of Roma women.

5. Joint project on Roma under the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe

A new joint project between the Council of Europe and the European Commission, implemented in co-operation with OSCE-ODIHR, was agreed in February. It follows a first joint project which promoted the development and adoption in South-East European countries of comprehensive national strategies covering such fields as education, accommodation, employment, social issues, health, citizenship and participation in public life. The results of the first project include adoption of a government programme for Roma in Croatia (October 2003), the setting-up of an interministerial committee charged with adopting a Roma action plan and including nine Roma elected by their peers in Bosnia-Herzegovina (July 2002), the adoption of a draft government programme in Serbia and Montenegro (December 2002), and the preparation of a draft strategy by a network of 15 Roma NGOs in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The new two-year project has various objectives:

    - To consolidate the efforts of the first project to ensure official adoption of draft programmes for Roma integration and to promote local implementation of the national strategy with the participation of Roma, especially through the effects of decentralisation (Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro);

    - To promote the development of comprehensive government strategies for Roma (Albania, Moldova, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), particularly through exchange of experience between countries and with the participation of Roma consultants;

    - To carry out, through local and international consultants (including a number of Roma) and an advisory board (consisting, amongst others, of representatives from the ILO, UNDP and PAKIV Roma Fund), a study on Roma access to employment, which will be complemented by a study at regional level that should lead to a regional conference on the subject, probably in Budapest in autumn 2004;

    - To allow exchange of information and transfer of good practice through multilateral seminars (on desegregation of schools for Roma children and on Roma mediators).

As in the first programme, there will be close co-operation with OSCE-ODIHR, whose new objective is to promote the participation of Roma in public life as voters and/or candidates.

6. Co-operation programme on matters relating to Roma refugees and displaced persons

In 2003 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Council of Europe undertook joint activities in Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Depending on the country, these activities related to integration of refugees, voluntary return of Roma to their place of origin, or the obtaining of identity papers and other personal documents. A new UNHCR/CoE joint programme of activities is planned for 2004.

The refugee crisis involving Roma from Kosovo who left Skopje in the early summer and gathered at the border with Greece for two months attracted the attention of the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, who called for closer co-ordination between European institutions and the creation of a task force for emergencies.

Following a visit to Serbia by a delegation including members of the Parliamentary Assembly, a consultant published for the Council of Europe a report on the forcible return from Germany and other Western countries to Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo of rejected Roma asylum seekers and the circumstances in which these populations were returned and integrated.

7. Council of Europe project on “Education of Roma/Gypsy children”

As part of this multi-annual project run by the Education Directorate of the Council of Europe, the Migration and Roma/Gypsies Department helped to organise a seminar on harmonisation of teaching materials in Romani (26-27 May). This seminar brought together representatives of the education services of various member States as well as experts in the language field and in the teaching of Roma culture and history. The leading idea of the project is to pool existing teaching materials in the mother tongue (Romani) in order to cut production costs and then to have them translated and adapt them to the situation of each member State. The follow-up to this first meeting will be discussed in early 2004.

In connection with this project, a meeting was held in Dijon (France) on training of (Roma) mediators and teachers in schools. An information brochure describing the project and its objectives has also been produced in English, French and Romani.

8. Co-ordinator for Roma/Gypsy Activities

A Co-ordinator for Roma/Gypsy Activities was appointed in the Council of Europe in 1994 to co-ordinate the various activities on Roma/Gypsies within the Council of Europe and establish/develop co-operative links with other international organisations (in particular the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), NGOs and Roma/Gypsy representatives.

The Co-ordinator’s Office has a documentation centre and regularly publishes a newsletter on Council of Europe activities relating to Roma/Gypsies.

In 2003 the Co-ordinator established contacts with various ministries, institutions and Roma NGOs in the Russian Federation (Urals region) and Ukraine. He has taken part in field visits and round tables on the situation of Roma in these countries.

He has also been to Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where he helped to resolve the crisis involving Roma refugees from Kosovo (see 6 above).

He participated in a string of events organised by other sectors of the Council of Europe in which he defended the interests of Roma/Gypsies:

    - Meeting of the Committee on Social Cohesion of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) on 15 March, where he stressed the important role of local authorities in implementing policies for Roma and Travellers.

    - Meeting in Rome (Italy) with the European Commissioner for Human Rights.

    - Joint meeting in Rome (Italy) of the CLRAE and DG III Social Cohesion on co-operation between local authorities and Roma/Travellers on matters of integration and reception.

    - Meeting of the European Committee of Social Rights (3 November), at which he emphasised the deplorable living and housing conditions of millions of Roma in Europe with reference to Article 31 of the revised Social Charter, which requires governments to ensure access to housing of an adequate standard. The system of collective complaints under the revised Social Charter was discussed (a complaint against Greece is pending) in relation to accommodation for Roma.

    - Meeting of the European Health Committee (CDSP) on 24-25 November, during which the Co-ordinator briefed its members on the conclusions of the international conference on Roma women and access to public health care (11-12 September) and the creation of the International Roma Women’s Network (IRWN).

The Co-ordinator also invited the relevant sectors of the Council of Europe to a meeting on 12 November, at which he asked them to join a cross-cutting project to provide comments and contributions regarding the draft recommendation on policies for Roma under discussion in MG-S-ROM.

Information on Council of Europe activities concerning Roma, Gypsies and Travellers can be found on the following website:




Maria Ochoa-Llid




Secretary, MG-S-ROM

Michal Guet


Brigitte Thomas


Special advisor on Roma issues

Miranda Vuolasranta


Judy Butler


Project manager

Eleni Tsetsekou


Nelly Tasnadi / Audrey Gabilly



Judy Butler


Henry Scicluna

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