28 September | Brussels, Belgium
The European Union (EU) Platform for Roma Inclusion, an open and flexible mechanism of governance organised jointly by the European Commission and the EU Presidency at the request of the Council, held its second meeting on the 28th of September 2009 in Brussels. The second meeting of the Platform was organised by the Swedish Presidency of the EU (under the leadership of the Swedish Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality) and the Comission (led by the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimír Špidla, and the Commissioner for Education and Culture, Jan Figel).
The Platform is a recent initiative, designed as a process driven by participants rather than a formal body. It has been established as a mechanism through which EU institutions, national governments, multilateral organisations, NGOs and experts share experiences and good practice in order to increase the coherence of existing policy initiatives and improve coordination between institutions. It established ten Common Basic Principles of Roma inclusion at its first meeting in April 2009, adopted as part of the Council conclusions on the 8th of June 2009, which reassert the commitment of the EU to social cohesion and inclusion. The Commission and Council have repeatedly expressed their commitment to enforcing existing EU legislation prohibiting discrimination on grounds of ethnicity or race in education, employment, social protection and access to goods and services. The EU also provides financial support for projects and programmes to improve Roma inclusion under the European Structural Funds.
The meeting focused on the issue of how to improve access by the Roma to quality education, considered as the fundamental precondition for the social inclusion of the Roma. In a joint statement, Commissioners Špidla and Figel asserted that: “The inclusion of the Roma is a litmus test for the EU as a community of rights and values. Only if we can guarantee that every Roma man, woman and child has both equal rights, but also equal chances in life, can we honour the values on which the EU is built. We need pragmatic, constructive and non-discriminatory policies which are targeted to Roma without excluding other people in a similarly disadvantaged situation.”
Restricted access to quality education often triggers a vicious circle of rising inequality through unemployment, poverty, poor housing and health. By widening the gap between the Roma and majority populations, it also increases the risk of social instability. The second meeting of the Platform also emphasised that Roma inclusion is in the economic interest of the EU member states, by increasing productivity and state revenues. Furthermore, Roma inclusion will help develop a qualified workforce in conditions of an ageing society. One of the four pillars of the EU’s newly adopted strategic framework “Education and Training 2020” consists in mainstreaming the specific needs of Roma into national education policies and the management of schools in order to secure equity, inclusion and cohesion.
An important theme of the meeting was the need for an integrated approach to education. Commissioner Špidla argued that: “Not only is education important for employment prospects, but also parents’ employment, housing situation and access to social services are inextricably linked to the success rate of Roma children in the educational process. Therefore, it is vital that policies for Roma education are not dealt with in isolation from those in employment and social affairs, housing and public health.”
The meeting was opened by the Roma Education Fund, which focused on key problems of the Roma in the education system and their root causes. Subsequently, three model case studies, the Swedish policy on mainstreaming education, the Hungarian equal opportunities funding policy and a local project from Timisoara (Romania) on Roma women against segregation were presented.
The Platform, which endorses the responsibility of member states for the key areas for Roma inclusion – education, employment, social inclusion, health services or the infrastructure and urban planning – will use coordination in order to support benchmarking and mutual learning and the mobilisation of EU Structural Funds to implement policies to improve the situation of the Roma.