16th Plenary Session of the Congress – Strasbourg (France)
Dosta! Congress Prize for Municipalities - Award Ceremony
Speech by Ian Micallef, President a.i. of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
4 March 2009
Distinguished Council of Europe Coordinator for Roma Issues,
Distinguished members of the Congress,
Distinguished mayors of the winning municipalities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is great honour for me to award today the Dosta! Congress Prize for Municipalities to the cities which showed exemplary ingenuity and innovation in addressing the problems faced by Roma people, sometimes against a difficult background of prejudices and discriminatory attitudes which still persist in our societies.
This discrimination in thought and in word is exactly the reason why we need today more deeds, more steps and measures to embed in the practice of every-day life the positive experience of involving Roma people, tackling their problems together with them and making them an integral part of our communities. Such experiences must be encouraged, rewarded and shared with others.
It is this spirit that the Dosta! Congress Prize for Municipalities was established in 2007, born out of the larger Council of Europe Dosta! Campaign but originally meant only for five countries in South-East Europe. I am pleased to say that, owing to the tremendous interest shown by municipalities from all over Europe, the 2nd edition of the prize which we are awarding today has been opened to towns and cities from all of the 47 Council of Europe member states.
I know that many interesting and innovative projects of a high quality have been submitted, and that the jury had a tough time making the decision. Indeed, this is why there are two joint-first prizes, but I must especially congratulate all the winners – Mostar and Prijedor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Volos of Greece and Lom of Bulgaria – and welcome them to Strasbourg.
This year’s winning projects have, amongst other things, sought to improve Roma living standards, especially with regard to decent housing and health care, to educate children and provide mediation and counselling services – in particular with regard to using the administration and public services, which is often a real stumbling block. They also endeavoured to create all-important employment opportunities through vocational training and, last but certainly not least, ensure the active participation of the Roma community and its representatives in municipal life.
It is important to point out that municipalities sometimes undertake this kind of work in favour of their Roma population in a national climate and with a background of public opinion that is not at all favourable to Roma rights and in fact can be quite the opposite. This makes the municipalities’ commitment to Roma human rights all the more remarkable and praiseworthy and shows that the local level is where democracy starts and can show the way.
The Congress is convinced that building a truly cohesive community where all citizens – members of a minority or not – feel involved, respected and listened to is one of the most important tasks facing local authorities, and that it necessarily includes the need – no, the obligation to raise public awareness on Roma rights and culture, and to fight against the stereotypes and prejudices towards them.
The Dosta!-Congress Prize seeks to showcase those local authorities who work FOR and, most importantly, WITH their Roma community, thus providing a much needed example to other authorities. This is why I am particularly pleased to award the 2008 Dosta! Congress Prize, together with the Council of Europe Coordinator for Roma Issues, Mr Henry Scicluna, to the municipalities which distinguished themselves in this work.