Summit of Mayors on Roma : “Building mutual trust at the grassroots” – 22 September 2011, France
Speech by Sir Alan Meale, President of the Sub-Committee on Local and Regional Democracy, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on behalf of the President of the Parliamentary Assembly
I would firstly like to warmly thank the Congress and its officials [on behalf of the President] for having invited the Parliamentary Assembly to this most important conference today.
Indeed, the situation of Roma in Europe is in such a miserable state that all forces – national, and in the case of the Assembly, international, but most importantly of all those at local level - are required to change their situation – whilst at the same time fighting the deep rooted stereotypes expressed against them in many of our European communities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you are aware, the Parliamentary Assembly has been active with the situation of Roma for a long time.
However, despite a great deal of work at International and national levels, the situation of the Roma remains a serious problem that affects each and every Council of Europe member state.
I repeat “every” one of the 47 member states – not least my own, which this week has witnessed the failure of sensible dialogue in a media circus which has portrayed scenes we all believed had gone forever.
Let me take this opportunity to say that the treatment of those Roma citizens within the UK, by forces claiming to represent democracy, beggars belief – I state this because - :
When an urban brownfield site, like the one at Dale Farm, previously used to hoard reclaimed scrap metal, can be given priority over human need, something is radically wrong with our values!
It’s time for my own government to listen to organisations like the Council of Europe – and in particular its Human Rights Commissioner – on this issue.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m here today to remind you of some of the statistics involved.
First of all, let me remind everyone here today that we are not speaking about a small interest group.
The Roma account for 10 to 12 million people throughout Europe - more than the entire population of many of our own countries.
Indeed, in some of our member states, the percentage of the Roma population in their countries is close to 10%.
The reality is that we are speaking about the largest minority in Europe - with Roma present in virtually all Council of Europe member states.
We therefore should all be concerned – not least because none of us can hide behind false excuses like that there “aren’t any Roma in my country”. – It simply wouldn’t be true.
This is an appropriate moment to also remind our national leaders that the Roma – as well as being Europe’s largest minority – are without a compact territory, and - unlike other national minorities - don’t receive any support from a kin-state.
Sadly, in some countries, the Roma are not even recognised as a minority group - even though they may have been established there for several centuries.
So what is today’s Conference about?
Intolerance - Yes
Discrimination – Yes
Rejection based on deep-seated prejudices - Yes
All of these.
We are also speaking about children not going to school, or in some horrendous cases, being sent to schools for children with mental disabilities – Yes, that has happened!
Can you imagine your own children being arbitrarily sent to such ‘special schools’? – How would you – how would any of us feel about that?
What if you were part of a minority whose rate of unemployment is endemic?
And what about entire families with young children being forced to live in disgusting conditions.
This, in some instances, is still occurring …
As is violence against people, beaten up simply because of their race,
Their homes and camps burned down,
And, yes, it has happened – people being killed.
After many of these events have occurred people ask: Why are they treated in such a way?
The truth is that it’s simply because they are ROMA…
Of course, there are some who may say I’m exaggerating – I’m darkening the picture – but these things have happened – and the situation in certain member states is deeply worrying, and indeed utterly shameful.
That’s why, in a recent report on the situation of Roma in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly deemed it necessary to sound alarm bells.
So, where in the world are we speaking about?
By such descriptions, many of us might think we are talking about some far-away country where Democracy doesn’t exist,
Where Human and Social Rights have no say…
But the truth is closer to home – it’s Europe, it’s in our own countries! – in our own back yards. And it’s our own citizens who are to blame.
Today’s conference is therefore occurring because the Council of Europe has – Yes – been a pioneer in promoting the protection of the Roma and, as such, believes it should try to influence others to do the same.
The Council of Europe’ efforts to improve the situation of the Roma has played a key role in this regard, though we have not done so alone but with other international organisations, NGOs and some Governments closely connected with us.
Sad to say, our efforts have so far not been as successful as we had hoped.
We, the Assembly, recognised this in our own report.
Many initiatives are too isolated and too narrow, offering only limited success.
So, the question is: What can we do to change that?
First of all, we need to ensure better participation of Roma in public and political life - especially at local levels.
If proof were needed, ask yourself: Despite their numbers, do you have any Roma MPs in your national parliaments?
How many Roma mayors are present here today?
Do you really think this reflects the reality?
Look at the statistics - according to estimates, only some 10 members of national parliaments and around 20 mayors are Roma.
Such figures – encompassing all the Council of Europe 47 member states – are abysmal and reflect the urgent need to enhance political participation and representation of the Roma people.
This is why we need to involve you - the authorities at the local level, to ensure that initiatives are taken and implemented where they are most needed.
I say this because all national plans may as well remain blank pieces of paper - if they are not better coordinated and better implemented where they are most needed - at the local level.
For this to occur successfully it is therefore necessary that local government institutions have effective functioning structures capable of implementing such plans and strategies.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the reality is - whether some like it or not - that you are best placed to ensure the projects and measures towards more inclusion of Roma are successful.
For example, measures aimed at integrating Roma in the labour market - taking into account their needs and difficulties - as well as the specificities of the local labour market in the area where they live.
There is need also to combine our efforts at all levels to do what is required :
- to get Roma children to go to school,
- to let their families live in proper housing and/or other accommodation,
- to condemn without any ambiguity all forms of intolerance they may suffer, - and
- to prove to them that our laws are for their benefit, not against their interests.
These are just a few of the steps required to break the vicious circle of discrimination in which most of the Roma are today locked into.
So, to conclude, Ladies and Gentlemen - the current situation of Roma in Europe is unacceptable - not least because of the enormous gulf between the situation of the Roma and that of most of the rest of our populations.
We all know that it is always hard to break out of poverty – it’s even harder still when one suffers discrimination from the outset.
So, my President’s message for this Conference is clear:
The Council of Europe endeavours to promote human rights, justice and the rule of law are at the heart of any solution to the mistreatment of the Roma.
Their right to equality, respect and opportunity must remain a priority in all our communities.
And we look to you to help deliver such laudable objectives when you return home.