Representatives of the European Commission, Representatives of Roma organisations,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to welcome you today, at the Launch of ROMED and ROMACT, two flagship programmes on Roma integration of the Council of Europe and European Commission.
Let me start by thanking warmly the Mayor of Milan, Mr Giuliano Pisapia, for hosting this event.
Allow me also to thank particularly Minister Cécile Kyenge, whose presence here is a testimony of her interest and support and whose actions have my sympathy and wholehearted appreciation.
I also thank Deputy Minister Maria Cecilia Guerra for her active participation in the programme.
My thanks also go to the local partners who supported the organisation of this event and who will further support the activities foreseen within the framework of the Programmes, and in particular to Ms Dijana Pavlovic, National Project Officer for the two programmes in Italy.
Why are we here today?
Despite all our stated efforts, the situation of the largest European minority - 10-12 million Roma in Europe - continues to be extremely bad, in terms of living conditions, access to basic rights, social exclusion, discrimination and rejection by non-Roma. This has for a long time been a matter of serious concern to us in the Council of Europe, as an organisation that works to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Our Court - the European Court of Human Rights - has repeatedly found violations of human rights in many of our countries, due to the appalling social conditions of Roma and their treatment in society. The Committee of Social Rights, the Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and other monitoring bodies, have repeatedly expressed their concern and made recommendations on how to improve the situation.
But, fortunately, the Council of Europe does not limit itself to pointing out the problems. As an organisation for intergovernmental co-operation we work with and in our member States to assist and support them in overcoming the problems and challenges they face. The 2010 Strasbourg Declaration on Roma, adopted by member states at their high-level meeting, was a turning point: in the past three years we have focused much less on adopting standards and much more on practical action to help member states to implement the existing standards.
We address the issue in different ways, recognizing that making progress towards the full integration of Roma in society requires a multifaceted approach that addresses all key actors.
First, it is important that adequate policies exist at national level. We have seen in recent years a strong development of European and national policy frameworks for the integration of Roma and this is most welcome. In particular, the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies has given a strong boost to adoption of national policies. Our intergovernmental committee on Roma Issues (CAHROM) is the place where governments work together in a concrete way to review specific problems, look at how other member states have addressed that issue and share lessons learnt and best practice, which we publish in an on-line database. The CAHROM has already examined issues relating to education, housing, antigypsyism and others.
At the same time, we are keenly aware that policy measures face obstacles on account of the persistent anti-Roma attitudes among the non-Roma population. Prejudice and stereotypes abound, and the Council of Europe has called for more awareness-raising activities to combat ignorance and prejudice about the Roma. We are very pleased with the way Italy has implemented our Dosta! campaign in recent years and I would like to pay tribute to the active role that the Ufficio Nazionale Antidscriminazioni Razziali is playing.
Another dimension to our work is the local one, which is absolutely essential for achieving progress. It is one thing to have a national strategy – and we welcome the adoption of the Italian national strategy – but it is quite another thing to achieve full implementation at local level. The Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities convened a Summit of Mayors on Roma Inclusion in 2011, where the mayors recognized not only their responsibilities for local inclusion measures but also that they needed support, with some even expressing the sentiment that they were being left alone to face serious problems existing locally. The Congress has since set up a European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion which is closely linked to the operational work at local level, to which I will now turn.
Over the past three years, the Council of Europe, in a joint effort with the European Commission's Directorate General of Education and Culture, has completed the ROMED Mediation for Roma Programme, which aimed at training mediators around Europe in working in the best way possible to ensure a fair dialogue between communities and local public institutions and to build mutual trust between them.
After two years of implementation in 22 countries, and over 1000 mediators trained, the ROMED Programme is now moving on to another level. Its second phase, ROMED, focuses on the community and their participation in democratic governance through mediation, while ROMACT, the brand new joint programme of the CoE and the EC works to build local level political commitment and the capacity of policy development in a complementary manner. The two programmes will thus work simultaneously on both the Roma citizens' ability to participate and the authorities' ability to respond. Later this morning, Jeroen Schokkenbroek, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe for Roma Issues, will say more about the planned implementation of the two programmes.
From our experience in different countries, we know that making progress with Roma inclusion at local level depends on genuine political commitment. In some cases, there is a need to build up such commitment. But this is not all: indeed, even where political will exists, there is frequently a lack of capacity of the local administrations to develop and implement effective policies and projects, which hampers the local implementation of national strategies and also prevents the effective use of available national and EU funds.
This is why we are launching our new programmes, together with the European Commission's DGs for Employment, Regional Policy and Education and Culture. We already did so in 4 countries last year, and I am delighted that we are doing it today in Italy, in the presence of many high-level representatives of cities and regions. I believe that, now that a national strategy is in place and now that the so-called "emergency approach" has been abandoned by the Government, there are excellent prospects for working together with you, mayors and other elected officials, representatives of Roma communities, to support you in achieving real progress in your cities.
Let me sum up with this:
YES, there is still a long way to go to make sure the Roma populations are fully integrated in the municipalities, with equal access to rights and services, and that is the case not only in Italy but also in other countries in Eastern and Western Europe.
YES, Mayors, councillors and staff of local authorities need the best possible support in this endeavour and YES the Council of Europe and the European Commission, together with their international partners such as Open Society Foundations, will provide coordinated support through the ROMED and ROMACT programmes launched today.
NO, these programmes are not about imposing a pre-defined model of governance. On the contrary, they will be very much based on local needs, which Roma communities themselves and local authorities are the best placed to assess. The two programmes will be more focused on how to identify local needs, how to ensure that Roma have a place in that process so that policy change is acceptable for the community as a whole, whether Roma or
non-Roma, how to ensure that projects are developed in an integrated way, covering a broad range of services, and how to ensure that projects developed are eligible for EU funding.
We rely on you - Mayors, councillors, staff and citizens - to make this process a success, not by revolutionary change but step-by-step, with pragmatic solutions to concrete problems. Progress is possible if there is good will. It is now time to work together to develop fresh policies and projects to ensure that all citizens and in particular Roma can take their full place in society, with all the right and obligations that this entails. We are convinced that Mayors, Councillors, the staff of local authorities, do care about all the people who live on their territory and that no one should be excluded.
We are confident that we can count on your commitment and co-operation.
Thank you for your attention.