EU vows action to improve Roma integration
European Union states vowed Thursday to take action to better integrate Roma minorities in the 27-nation bloc, a year after a furore over their treatment in France.
The governments agreed to develop Roma inclusion strategies this year to improve the lot of Europe's biggest minority group, which still suffers from xenophobia in parts of the continent.
EU social policy and employment ministers acknowledged that "despite efforts at national, European and international level to advance Roma inclusion, many Roma still face deep poverty, profound social exclusion, barriers in exercising fundamental rights, and discrimination."
In conclusions adopted after a meeting in Brussels, the ministers said the new policies could focus on improving access to education, jobs, health care and housing.
They also invited the European Commission to assess the success of their Roma inclusion policies and pursue "rigorous monitoring" of the implementation of EU laws on combating discimination based on ethnic origin.
The European Roma Policy Coalition, currently chaired by Amnesty International, welcomed the adoption of the action plan and said it expected governments to draft "ambitious strategies" to integrate Roma people.
"Given the hostile treatment many Roma people encounter, the framework mustn't be a litany of lofty sentiments," said Amnesty International's Nicolas Beger.
"The (European) Commission and member states must swiftly combat racism and xenophobia and encourage fuller integration of our Roma communities and greater empowerment. There must be tangible results," Beger said.
The fresh bid to improve Roma integration was proposed last month by the European Commission, which clashed with France last year after Paris expelled hundreds of eastern European Roma migrants on security grounds.
EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding angered French President Nicolas Sarzkoy when she compared the expulsions to the treatment of Roma minorities during World War II.
The EU's executive commission later dropped a threat to prosecute France for discrimination, when Paris gave assurances that it would fall in line with EU-wide laws on freedom of movement.
© 2011 AFP