17.09.2008European Roma Summit, Brussels, 16 September 2008
Ministers, European politicians, representatives of the Roma community and NGOs took part in the first EU Roma Summit in Brussels. The high-level meeting is a follow up from the report of the European Commision from July 2 according to which Roma still suffer discrimination and social exclusion despite the continuing attepmts for integration. The meeting was organized on September 16 by the European Commission under the patronage of its President and the French Presidency of the European Union and got together more than 400 participants. Its goal was to promote the preparation of a European Roma Strategy and to provoke higher engagement from the institutions of the European Union and the Member states.
The summit was opened by President Barroso. He insisted that it was high time to undertake real measures for overcoming the disastrous situation of Roma in Europe. No one should expect however that it was only up to Brussels to solve these problems. On the contrary, it has to be clear that this is a joint responsibility of teh member states and the European Commission but "The instruments for creating change are mainly in the hands of the Member States. [...] The European Commission can help through its legislative instruments, such as the non-discrimination Directives; through its financial instruments, such as the Structural Funds and the PROGRESS programme as well as through its information campaigns and support for capacity building. The Commission can also play an active role by providing policy guidance and stimulating the exchange of good practice between Member States." Barroso said. He appealed for teh creation of a strong Roma strategy with real enagement from the political factors and a budget behind it. He further stressed that civil society should have leading role in this process. Barroso's statement was supported by the clear political committment by Vladimir Spidla, Commissioner for social issiues, Jan Figel, Commissioner for education, and Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security. The latter underlined that he would not tolerate any discrimination act. Again Bulgaria became the negative example: Barrot sharply condemned the precedet of the journalist prize given to the racist Bulgarian journalist Kalin Rumenov who became famous recently with his pro-fascist anti-Roma articles.
The EU Roma Summit takes place in the heat of one of the most serious conflicts of discrimination towards Roma after the Holocaust, namely the ongoing xenophobic policy of the Italian government towards the Roma camps in Italy and the ethnic profiling. This provoked also the demonstration of representatives of different Roma communities from allover Europe who put up T-Shirts with the inscription "Against Ethnic Profiling" during the speach of President Barroso. They met with loud applouses Barroso's words: "We completely agree with what is written on your T-shirts." The Roma representatives jointly left the meeting hall during the speech of the italian representative Eugenia Maria Roccella.
The EU Roma Summit takes place in the eve of the preparation of the updated version of the Bulgarian Roma Strategy - teh Framework program for integration of Roma into Bulgarian society. During the meeting in Brussels however Bulgaria again has shown that it is indifferent towards improving the situation of Roma unlike our neighbouring countries. And while Macedonia has sent its Deputy prime-Minister Ivica Bochevski and the Minister without Portfolio Nezdet Mustafa, and Romania was represented by Mihnea Constantinescu, Special Envoyé of the Prime Minister on Roma Issues, Bulgaria did not even have an official delegation, or an official statement of the responsibilities it would undertake for the integration of Roma. Furthermore, servants from the Bulgarian administration participated in the meeting registered as representatives of non-governmental organizations.
The Roma organizations from Bulgaria, among which Center Amalipe, Integro Association, ROS Kupate, etc. took active part in the meeting. In conversations with representatives of the European Commission and international organizations they received full support for organizing a large-scale campaign for preparing the Framework program with maximum participation of the Roma civil society, as well as for organizing a national round table for its discussion. Experts from the European Commission clearly stated that the process of adopting the updated Framework program will be a test for the Bulgarian government for its readiness to follow the European trends.