Strasbourg, 15 December 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are honoured today, Madam President, to have you among us at this ceremony which marks the beginning of the partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Roma and Travellers Forum – the Forum which is the result of your personal initiative and a sustained campaign by you and your representatives such as Ambassador Ann-Marie Nyroos over a period of nearly four years.
I should also like to welcome Mr Courtial and to thank him for the support which he has given to this initiative.
And a very special welcome to you, Mr Kawczynski, as acting President of the Forum, and to all the other Roma representatives in Strasbourg today. We are proud to have you with us.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The initiative of President Halonen came at the right time. The Roma and Travellers population, long subdued and abused, are today demanding an end to discrimination and insisting on equal treatment as citizens of the countries in which they live. The numerous international and national non-governmental Roma organisations are not only the reflection of a yearning for justice but also proof of the new self-confidence in the struggle for their rights.
President Halonen’s appeal was also made in the right place. In the Council of Europe, we are deeply committed to the social well-being of all the people of Europe and the protection of their rights, we could not possibly ignore the plea of more than 8 million people many of whom experience a cycle of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment.
The title of the Agreement which we are signing today speaks for itself. It is about partnership. The Council of Europe and the Forum are partners in a common cause – to achieve the integration of Roma and Travellers into our societies, in full respect of their culture and traditions. The contribution which the Council of Europe is making to the Forum in terms of financial and human resources is a recognition that this cause is just, and with the creation of the Forum, Roma and Travellers will now have a voice at the pan-European level. For the first time in their history, they will be able to influence the decision-making which affects them.
At the Council of Europe, we are proud that both Finland and the representatives of Roma and Travellers have entrusted us with the responsibility of bringing President Halonen’s initiative to fruition. Now we must ensure that both international and national authorities not only hear the voices of Roma and Travellers but also listen to them.