"Mr. Šefčovič has always been open, pro-active and ready to support all respective projects on the Roma issue," write the leaders of four Roma organisations in Slovakia in a letter obtained by EurActiv.
The statement appears to defuse attacks by two Hungarian MEPs from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), József Szájer and Lívia Járóka, who accused him of "anti-Gypsyism" (EurActiv 14/01/10).
It will provide some comfort to Šefčovič, who is due to appear for a parliamentary confirmation hearing on Monday (18 January), at which the European People's Party (EPP) had said it would seek clarification on the "unacceptable" remarks.
The EPP's attack, launched on Wednesday (13 January), came in response to the European socialists, who have been increasing the pressure on Bulgaria's Commissioner-designate Rumiana Jeleva to quit following a poor showing in her own parliamentary hearing (EurActiv 13/01/10).
The EPP's Járóka, who is of Roma ethnicity, told EurActiv yesterday that Roma issues were "completely absent" from Šefčovič's agenda when he was ambassador to the EU in 2004-2009.
But Roma organisations in Slovakia strongly contradicted this statement. "Thanks to the positive approach and personal engagement of Mr. Šefčovič, a unique European project [to the benefit of] marginalised Roma community has been set up in the Slovak Republic," the leaders of the four organisations write. The project is worth 200 million euros, they claim.
Roma leaders further commended Šefčovič's engagement with the 'Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015,' an EU-backed initiative from European governments to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma, launched by philanthropist George Soros.
Several European Parliament sources told EurActiv that attacks against Šefčovič should be seen in the context of tense Slovak-Hungarian relations.
Leading MEP Eduard Kukan, a former foreign minister of Slovakia, who is EPP-affiliated, told EurActiv that the attacks against Šefčovič took place against "a national background," although his Hungarian colleagues were saying that they had acted "in the EPP's best interest".
Kukan said that in fact this was not the case and the attacks were "unfair".