Hungarian EU Presidency to push for Roma strategy

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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.

Hungarian strengths

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'.

According to the European Commission, about 12 million Roma live in Europe. They are the EU's largest ethnic minority, and their origins are traced back to medieval India.

Census statistics state that 535,000 Roma live in Romania, 370,000 in Bulgaria, 205,000 in Hungary, 89,000 in Slovakia and 108,000 in Serbia. Some 200,000 Roma are estimated to live in the Czech Republic, while the same number is estimated to reside in Greece and an estimated 500,000 are in Turkey. Census statistics cannot be seen as a precise tool for counting the number of Roma, as they often identify themselves by their nationality, and not by their ethnicity.

Many Roma from Eastern Europe moved to the West following the EU's enlargement, creating tensions, particularly in Italy and in France, where the government is expelling large numbers of them in groups.

The European Commission challenged the legal grounds for the expulsions. France is insisting that its measures are not discriminatory and are intended to protect the security of its citizens and public order.

Several politicians expressed the hope that the expulsions controversy would result in more attention toward the Roma, who as a result of their traditional way of life, but also due to discrimination, live in the margins of societies.

The new ten-year strategy, replacing the Lisbon agenda, called Europe 2020, defines five headline targets at EU level, which member states will be asked to translate into national goals reflecting their differing starting points:

  • Raising the employment rate of the population aged 20-64 from the current 69% to 75%.
  • Raising the investment in R&D to 3% of the EU's GDP.
  • Meeting the EU's '20/20/20' objectives on greenhouse gas emission reduction and renewable energies.
  • Reducing the share of early school leavers from the current 15% to under 10% and making sure that at least 40% of youngsters have a degree or diploma.
  • Reducing the number of Europeans living below the poverty line by 25%, lifting 20 million out of poverty from the current 80 million.
  • 30 Nov.- 1 Dec.: European Parliament holds public hearing on EU strategy on Roma inclusion.

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