European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion:
Consultation meeting with cities, regions and stakeholders
(Strasbourg, 25 September 2012)
Speech by John Warmisham
Thematic Rapporteur on Roma/Travellers and Coordinator for the Alliance
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
Council of Europe
From the Summit of Mayors to today’s Alliance of cities and regions
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to join the previous speakers in welcoming you to this consultation meeting on the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion.
The initiative to create such an alliance was dictated by the gravity itself of the situation of Roma in Europe. Roma today are probably the last remaining marginalised ethnic group on this continent, victims of the persistent discrimination, prejudice and hate speech directed at them. They continue to be discriminated against when it comes to access to housing, to education, to health care and in finding jobs – all the areas where local and regional authorities have key responsibilities, sometimes almost exclusive responsibilities under national laws.
Local and regional authorities have indeed a crucial role to play in improving the situation of Roma, because it is in our communities where concrete initiatives and measures can be most effectively implemented. It is also in our towns and regions where the triangle of Roma and non-Roma populations and public authorities comes together – often against the background of mistrust, tension and outright hostility, but at the same time offering an opportunity for working together, side by side, to find solutions.
We know that finding solutions is possible, and the best proof of it is a growing number of municipal and regional initiatives, projects and even networks dedicated exclusively to Roma inclusion. Other existing networks of cities and regions are also in the process of developing Roma-related activities – such as Eurocities, Intercultural Cities, Strasbourg Club, or European Forum for Urban Safety, among many others. Some of them have been able to participate in this meeting, and I am pleased to welcome you here today.
I am also speaking from personal experience: in my own community of Salford in the United Kingdom, we carried out a successful awareness-raising campaign on ‘myth-busting’ – dissipating among local residents false perceptions about Roma, which fuel prejudice. This media campaign, in turn, helped with integrating Roma pupils into local schools, which was another successful action in my community.
This kind of examples only highlight the need for mobilising local and regional action to improve the Roma situation, which has the most concrete impact on our citizens – both Roma and non-Roma – and, on the other hand, for coordinating local and regional initiatives across Europe, sharing experiences and transferring good practices to replicate ‘success stories’ in other communities. As it has already been mentioned, the crucial importance of local and regional action – including for the implementation of national strategies for Roma inclusion – was also confirmed by the 47 member states of the Council of Europe in their Strasbourg Declaration of October 2010.
Driven by this need, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe placed the Roma issue among its top priorities. I was appointed Thematic Rapporteur on Roma/Travellers, and prepared last year a comprehensive report on the situation of Roma as a challenge for local and regional authorities in Europe. In October last year, the Congress adopted a resolution and a recommendation with specific proposals for action at the grassroots, as well as for national measures in a number of areas. You can find these texts in the file that was given to you this morning.
I should also add that as a follow-up to this first broad report, I am currently preparing – together with a co-rapporteur from Sweden – a new report on the situation of young Roma in Europe, in the framework of the Council of Europe’s Roma Youth Action Plan. It is clear that if we are to bring about change in the situation of Roma, we must also focus on the younger Roma generations who can sustain it in the future, and who are often caught today between the expectations of their families and communities and the stigmatisation of the majority society.
However, our key initiative last year was holding a Summit of Mayors on Roma, as a way of bringing together local and regional authorities and their networks, institutional partners and experts, civil society and Roma organisations. Under the slogan: “Building mutual trust at grassroots”, the Summit was organised in Strasbourg on 22 September 2011, in close co-operation with the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma issues, Mr Schokkenbroek, and with financial contributions from the European Commission, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Open Society Foundations.
The Summit was an opportunity to take stock of the situation on the ground, discuss existing problems, share experiences and identify possible solutions. With some 400 participants, the Summit was a great success, and one of its concrete results was the commitment of participating cities and regions to establish a European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion. The Summit Declaration, which is also included in your files, defines the Alliance as “a framework for co-operation, sharing of good practices, strengthening local and regional capacities for action, identifying specific problems and proposing solutions, and helping to ensure funding for Roma activities at the grassroots level”.
A Core Group of 11 cities and regions committed to building the Alliance was set up in the wake of the Summit to steer this project under the auspices of the Congress and the Special Representative for Roma issues. The Group was assisted in its work by our experts, Mr Jose-Manuel Fresno, General Rapporteur of the Summit and of the Core Group, and Dr Robin Oakley, consultant for the report on Roma and author of the initial concept for a co-operation framework.
Our partners in the European Commission, the Assembly of European Regions and Open Society Foundations also contributed to the work of the Group, and today I wish to thank all its participants – members, partners and experts, present here – for their commitment and effort that they put into this project over the past year.
The Group has defined a draft concept and overall objectives of the Alliance, as well as the range and type of activities that it could carry out. A questionnaire was sent out to a wide selection of cities and regions in Council of Europe member states to assess their concrete needs and priorities and to establish their preferences in future activities of the Alliance. Most of you have responded to this questionnaire, and I would like to thank you for doing so. The results will be presented to you later today; I would just limit myself to saying that they were encouraging indeed, with 103 replies from local and regional authorities in 26 countries, of which 91 respondents expressed their interest in joining activities of the Alliance.
Furthermore, preliminary consultations were held with external partners, in particular the European Commission which also expressed interest. I am pleased to welcome today representatives of several Directorates-General of the Commission, and to thank them for their participation.
Another important boost to this project was the reply from the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to the Congress’ recommendation on the situation of Roma, in March this year. The Committee of Ministers agreed that local and regional authorities should be given the capacity to effectively implement policies in support of Roma inclusion, and welcomed our proposal to launch the Alliance. The Ministers also noted with interest our proposal to national governments to set up a European programme for capacity-building at local and regional level, complementary to the Roma mediators training programme, ROMED. This reply shows political support of the Council of Europe member states to the Alliance initiative.
All this work has prepared the ground for our discussions today. This Consultation Meeting is a logical next step in the process of building the Alliance. Today, we will have an opportunity to exchange views on priorities, types of activities and methods of co-operation within the Alliance, and its relevance to your current work in your communities or institutions. We will also discuss next steps, and seek your views about the first operations that the Alliance could carry out. I am confident that this meeting will allow us to bring the project forward, so that we could actually launch first activities before the end of the year.
I would like to conclude by stressing our strong belief that the Alliance project is timely indeed.
It is timely because the situation of Roma remains an affront to our democratic ideals and values. It is timely because national strategies for Roma inclusion, received by the European Union during the last months, will have to be implemented in our local and regional communities, which will require substantial capacity-building of authorities at the grassroots to present projects for funding and for project implementation. It is also timely because the new programming period of the European Social Fund, which begins in 2014, will have a particular emphasis on the involvement of local and regional authorities in Roma inclusion. Finally, it is timely because there is an “awakening” at European, national and grassroots levels that something has to be done to improve the situation, and numerous activities are already underway.
What we need to move forward is a political will and commitment, and your participation in this meeting shows that we have both. This is why I very much look forward to our discussions today.