At its Plenary Session on 27 February, the EESC discussed effective Roma inclusion strategies in the Member States with the Hungarian Minister for Human Resources Zoltan Balog.
"Europe's strength is its 'unity in diversity' and Roma are part of this diversity, so you'd expect their inclusion to be natural", stressed EESC President Henri Malosse in his opening remarks "Their special skills enrich Europe's culture and society." Especially in times of crisis, minority groups such as Roma communities are disproportionately exposed to the effects of economic downturns.
The Roma are the largest minority in Europe (10 to 12 million) and represent 7% of the Hungarian population. "European Member States have to assume their responsibility. The Roma problem touches on social and ethnic questions and needs to be tackled on several fronts, such as education or employment", emphasised the Hungarian Minister for Human Resources Zoltan Balog when he presented the Hungarian Roma programme, which started in 2010. The minister also warned against looking upon Roma as just victims: "Roma are and have been victims in some regards, but they are primarily responsible people and 'actors' of their own lives." The Hungarian programme focuses on several areas such as basic education, agricultural training, access to water and equipping Roma with the knowledge they need to help themselves.
Non-binding measures are pointless
The viable measures put forward by the Commission to improve the situation of Roma were welcomed by the Committee, but have achieved little in the Member States so far. On the contrary, civil society studies on the framework strategy and national strategies show serious shortcomings that are clearly due to a lack of commitment in Member States.
"These useful measures will have no teeth", stressed EESC president Henri Malosse "unless they are legally binding. The EESC therefore calls on the Council to use its power to adopt legally binding acts in order to alleviate the hardship and immense poverty that threaten the lives of Roma."
Roma involvement is essential
The Committee also advocates clear frameworks for the introduction of benchmarks and indicators and compliance assessments by independent researchers. All measures have to be implemented with the involvement and mobilisation of the Roma themselves.