Local and regional governments must be offered more political and financial support to tackle discrimination of Roma people in Europe’s communities, Cllr Roger Stone argued on 5 December. The Rotherham council leader and member of the Committee of the Regions called on the EU to significantly step up efforts to improve the monitoring of national governments who had committed to implementing Roma integration strategies yet "were not doing nearly enough". The EU's current top-down approach was failing, he argued, and it was time governments re-assessed their strategies to ensure local authorities were better involved.
Cllr Stone (UK/PES) was speaking during a conference on Roma Inclusion held in Brussels which debated the challenges and opportunities at a local level. With an estimated 10-12 million Roma living in Europe, the European Commission has set out Roma integration goals based on access to education, employment, healthcare and housing. Through an opinion penned by Cllr Stone and adopted during the Committee's plenary last week, local and regional authorities called for an end to any form of segregation of the Roma community. The Committee argued that given the differences in issues related to Roma discrimination and integration across Europe's regions, it was impossible to find a "one-size-fits all" policy and local governments must be given autonomy to design measures that meet the need of their specific local communities.
The Committee has raised serious concern that though many member states had signed-up to implementing Roma national strategies, many were failing to deliver on their promises offering little support to and not fully engaging local government. The consequences, Cllr Stone stressed, were that many Roma were still facing serious discrimination and being allowed to live in "third world" conditions. With only 20 member states involving local and regional authorities in implementing strategies, 12 promoting exchange among local authorities, and 15 committing resources, Cllr Stone stressed that not nearly enough was being done to involve local and regional authorities. "On paper all EU governments have committed to delivering strategies to deal with the integration and discrimination of the Roma community. Yet in many cases there is nothing coming from our national governments. We need more than just a political commitment, we need action. This is a community issue so we must involve local government as this problem will not simply go away", he said. The Committee urges the Commission to start radically improving the monitoring of government strategies so progress and effort can be sufficiently measured and support offered wherever necessary.
The Committee also calls for an improvement to access to funds. A lack of coordination and commitment of investment by national governments was accentuating the issue for local authorities, a point echoed by President of European Parliament's Socialist Group, Hannes Swoboda, “Some national governments simply do not do enough to promote integration. There are EU funds that can be accessed through the ESF to help with integration and some national governments think this is enough to do the job. We ask governments in these countries to improve take up of this money given the potential and willingness of people in communities to help”.
During his speech Cllr Stone also called for the EU to insist that all Roma children attend school which would make a significant difference in promoting long-term integration. Cllr Stone also backs the introduction of Roma National Contact Points but regrets that they have not been advertised enough up until now and lack resources. The Committee's opinion also proposes setting up mentoring schemes to improve relations between Roma and public authorities.
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