The upcoming Hungarian EU Presidency will give the plight of the bloc's Roma minority the attention it deserves by mobilising resources in the 'Europe 2020' strategy, Hungary's Ambassador to the EU Péter Györkös said on 26 November.
Three headlines of the Europe 2020 strategy are "absolutely relevant" in the context of the Roma issue, the ambassador said, citing so-called EU-level "headline targets" which member states will be asked to translate into national goals: unemployment, early school leaving and poverty.
He made the remarks at a public event organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC), during which he presented the priorities of the Hungarian Presidency of the EU, which starts on 1 January 2011 and runs for six months.
Györkös said that since the Union was determined to be closer to its citizens, Europeans "should be closer to twelve million citizens in Europe who are Roma".
Helping solve the many problems faced by Roma in Europe is "a challenging exercise," the diplomat admitted.
He said that his country has 7-800,000 Roma, a figure which is higher than the numbers in the latest census (see 'Background'). The Hungarian Roma are "established", sedentary, and "don't come up on the European agenda," Györkös added, alluding to recent tensions in Italy and France caused by the presence in those countries of large numbers of Roma from Romania and Bulgaria.
Hungary wants to harmonise domestic efforts with coordinated European action, the diplomat further argued.
The Roma issue, he said, will come up at Council level in the second half of the Hungarian Presidency. Before that, structured discussions will start with a European Commission paper on Roma in Europe and a progress report on Roma inclusion, to be published in early April.
Next comes a Roma Platform meeting in Budapest and several Council meetings, with those on Employment and Social Policy and Education and Youth being especially important.
A synthesis report will be presented at the June EU summit at the end of the Hungarian Presidency, Györkös said.
Hungary is well-placed to successfully address the difficult Roma challenge. In the European Parliament, the only Roma MEP is Hungarian Livia Járóka (European People's Party),who took the initiative to transform this summer's crisis over the expulsions of Romas from France into an opportunity.
Járóka is currently working on a blueprint for a legislative proposal to be presented under the Hungarian EU Presidency on funding the Roma communities.
EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion László Andor is Hungarian and has been particularly active on the Roma issue lately.
On 7 September the Commission decided to establish a 'Roma Task Force' to analyse the follow-up given by member countries to a communication dated April 2010, considered to be the first ever EU policy document dedicated specifically to Roma.
Until recently, the Commission had avoided getting involved in the Roma controversy, claiming among other things that it did not have the capacity or knowledge to act.
In particular, the Task Force will assess the effectiveness and use of EU funds for Roma integration by all member countries. Some countries like France claim that countries of origin such as Romania do very little to make use of funds in the interests of Roma.
The first findings of the Roma Task Force are expected by the end of the year.
Andor recently invited member countries to present their own strategies for the social inclusion of Roma, which could be taken into account when the Commission presents an 'EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies'.