The idea of having a forum representing Roma communities in Europe has been in the air since the early nineties. It was the Roma themselves who started thinking of a body that would help them express their concerns at the European level. The idea took a more concrete form when in 2001 Mrs Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, in an address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, proposed the setting up of some kind of a consultative assembly for the Roma on a European level. The purpose, in her own words, is to “give a voice to the Roma”.
Mrs Halonen’s proposal raised a lot of interest both amongst the Roma and within the Council of Europe. As a result, an informal exploratory group composed of Roma leaders and personalities started examining the feasibility of setting up such a body, or Forum, as those involved began to call it. From 2001 until July 2004 several dozen meetings took place in Strasbourg where Roma and Traveller representatives negotiated with the Council of Europe the creation of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF). The conclusions were very positive and the ERTF was registered in July 2004 as an association under French law.
In November 2004, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers agreed to establish close and privileged relations with the ERTF through a Partnership Agreement which was signed on 15 December 2004 (see the text of the Partnership Agreement). In virtue of this Agreement, the ERTF receives assistance in terms of financial and human resources, and has a privileged access to the various bodies and organs of the Council of Europe which deal with matters concerning Roma and Travellers.
What is special about the Forum?
The Roma and Travellers have several non-governmental organisations in all countries where such population exists. There are also a number of international non-governmental organisations working for the improvement of the situation of the Roma in the various countries. The idea behind the initiative, however, was to create for the Roma an international body having close and privileged links with the Council of Europe.
The Forum will give the Roma and Travellers the possibility to participate in and influence decision-making processes in issues concerning them, openly and officially, through a special relationship with the Council of Europe. This will be the first time that national and European Roma organisations from all over Europe will be able to discuss together and formulate jointly their hopes and concerns. These are the unique features of the Forum which distinguish it from any other international organisation.
What is the nature of the Forum?
The Forum is intended to be an autonomous body, independent of governments and inter-governmental organisations. It has the status of a non-governmental organisation. It has, however, have a legal partnership agreement with the Council of Europe, which, amongst other things provides for the establishment of relations with the various bodies of the Council of Europe. According to the case, this relationship could take the form of a hearing, participation at meetings, providing expert advice.
The Forum may also seek consultative relations with other international institutions and organisations, and with governments.
Who can join the Forum?
The Forum is open to Roma, Sinti, Kale, Travellers and other related groups.
The members of the Forum are:
- the national umbrella organisations
- the Roma international organisations.
These members nominate delegates to sit in the plenary meetings and in the Executive Committee.
National umbrella organisations of the Roma and/or Travellers must cover 75 per cent of the national structures representing this population in the country concerned. These national umbrella organisations have to appoint one titular delegate and three substitutes to the Forum. The substitute delegates may be given the right to vote if they come from countries with a substantial population of Roma /Travellers.
International non-governmental organisations must be registered, have been active for four years, have members in at least ten countries, are financially independent of government funds and produce an annual audit report of all their activities. They can send three delegates each.
What happens with those communities which do not have a national umbrella organisation?
Where such a national umbrella organisation does not exist the delegate and substitutes to the Forum will be selected by a gathering of all the structures representing the Roma/Travellers population in countries. These structures could include nation-wide non-governmental organisations, political parties with Roma elected members in the national Parliaments, advisory bodies and self-government bodies. In this case, the delegate and substitutes will sit in the Forum for the first term of office (four years). Thereafter, delegates may only be appointed by a national umbrella organisation.
And what if an international non-governmental organisation does not satisfy all the requirements?
An international non-governmental organisation representing Roma interests must satisfy all the requirements to become a member. However, if the organisation is not registered, but all other requirements are satisfied it shall be allowed to be represented by delegates for the first term of office only (four years). Thereafter, delegates may only be appointed if the international organisation is formally registered.
How is the selection of delegates made?
The national umbrella organisations or gathering of structures and the international organisations should choose their delegates with great care, taking into account a number of criteria:
- they should be highly representative of their community, and enjoy the confidence and trust of the population they represent
- both genders should be represented
- the younger generation of Roma should be represented
What are the responsibilities of the delegates?
The delegates will collectively represent the Roma/Travellers community in Europe and work together for the promotion of the interests of these communities. They should attend and participate actively in the meetings of the Plenary Assembly and of the Executive Committee if they are members of it.
The delegates should keep in touch with the community or organisation which they represent and keep them fully informed of the activities of the Forum.
Delegates to the Forum will not receive a salary but their travel expenses and daily allowances when attending the abovementioned meetings will be covered by the budget of the Forum.
How will the Forum function?
The Forum will function through a Plenary Assembly which will discuss major issues affecting the Roma/Travellers populations. It will draw up the work programme and through an Executive Committee carry out the tasks given to it by the Plenary Assembly. The Forum will oversee the respect of human rights of Roma/Travellers populations, promote the struggle against racism and discrimination, facilitate their integration into European societies and make proposals for the improvement of their social condition. It will make proposals at both the national and international level and take part in European cooperation for the promotion of the interests of these populations.
What languages will be used by the delegates to the Forum?
Romani, English and French will be the official languages. Interpretation and translation costs at meetings of the Plenary Assembly and of the Executive Committee will be covered by the budget of the Forum. Other languages may be used but at the expense of the delegation that wishes to use them.
How is the Forum going to be funded?
The Council of Europe will provide a contribution in terms of human, technical and financial resources. The Council of Europe plans to provide staff, and it has already provided offices within the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, service facilities and an annual grant.
Membership fees -to be fixed by the Plenary Assembly – will also go towards funding the Forum.
The Forum will be encouraged to look for extra funds from other sources.
May the Forum establish close and privileged relations with other international organisations and institutions?
Yes, it may, as long as such a relationship does not clash with the principles and values of the Council of Europe. In fact, it would be very helpful for the Forum to develop similar relations with the European Commission and the OSCE. Both organisations have so far shown a manifest interest in the creation of the Forum.