EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Andrew Stunell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 19 May 2011 in Brussels. The United Kingdom was represented by the UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, Andy Lebrecht.

This was a single issue council on the subject of Roma integration. On 5 April, the European Commission published a communication on an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020. Based on this, the presidency invited the council to ¦27hold an exchange of views and adopt a set of council conclusions and an opinion from the Social Protection Committee.

The presidency stressed the importance of member states taking effective action to tackle Roma exclusion, whilst emphasising the added value of EU-level action. The presidency noted that the situation of the Roma differed considerably between member states and so the conclusions provided latitude to member states to tailor their approaches to national needs by committing them to preparing either national strategies or sets of policy measures. The chair of the Social Protection Committee underlined the Social Protection Committee’s willingness to continue work on this issue.
The European Commission emphasised the need to step up efforts against discrimination. They said that strong commitment was needed by all member states, but acknowledged that member states’ efforts to promote Roma inclusion should be proportionate to the size and situation of the Roma population on their territory. The Commission also emphasised the link with the EU2020 Strategy and underlined the importance of member states’ strategies or policy approaches focusing on the four priority areas identified in the Commission’s communication (health, housing, education and employment). They called on member states to submit their strategies or policy approaches by the end of 2011. The Commission would then report annually to the European Parliament and council on progress made.


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UN human rights expert spotlights suffering of Roma and victims of caste systems

The Roma community in Europe and victims of caste systems in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are continuously subjected to deep-rooted discrimination, prejudice and intolerance, and deserve protection from those violations, the United Nations independent expert on racism stressed today.

“All victims should receive the same attention and protection, and all forms of racism and discrimination should be addressed with the same emphasis and determination,”

“It is essential to avoid establishing any hierarchy among the different manifestations of discrimination, even if they may vary in nature and degree depending on the historical, geographical and cultural contexts,” said Mr. Muigai as he presented his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
On the Roma community, Mr. Muigai assessed racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, particularly in Europe.
“While positive developments and good practices have been identified at the regional and national levels they have been insufficient,” he noted. “Important challenges remain that reveal grave and deep-rooted problems of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against Roma that need to be addressed in the most vigorous manner.”
He stressed that it is essential to develop a comprehensive approach based on stronger legal, political and institutional measures, taking into account the structural dimension of the problem, the interrelation between discrimination and socio-economic marginalization and political exclusion, as well as the situation of the most vulnerable Roma.
In his view, legislative measures should be adopted and complemented by key measures such as affirmative action to redress historical inequalities; training in human rights for State agents; and educational and awareness-raising measures to foster mutual understanding, respect and tolerance. Mr. Muigai’s report also addressed discrimination based on work and descent in different regions. “The vital first step is to recognize that discrimination on the grounds of descent constitutes a form of racial discrimination prohibited by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” he says.
“However, certain governments have failed to implement effectively their obligations to protect against such discrimination, and have, in some instances, sidestepped the question of caste discrimination,” Mr. Muigai added. He suggested that governments include information on the issue of discrimination based on caste and other analogous systems of inherited status in their reports to UN human rights bodies. He also called for the collection of disaggregated data, on a regular basis, to identify the number of people affected and design appropriate strategies to fight this kind of discrimination.
“Shortcomings do not stem only from governments and institutions but also from the population itself, including within communities considered of lower caste or status,” the independent expert noted.
In his view, any legal measure to outlaw discrimination should go “hand-in-hand with awareness-raising, with a special emphasis on the judiciary, police and civil service, to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the law by the police and civil service to ensure access to justice and effective remedies for victims.”
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Fundamental Rights Agency: Promise to support national Roma inclusion strategies

Morten Kjaerum, director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has presented the agency’s 2010 activities to the EP’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE). Answering the question of Lívia Járóka, rapporteur of the EU strategy on Roma inclusion, the director confirmed that the FRA was willing to assist the development of national Roma inclusion strategies already as of the planning phase.
The IBE Committee of the European Parliament hosted Morten Kjaerum, Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and Ilze Brands Kehris, Chairwoman of the FRA Management Board. Following the presentation of the FRA’s 2010 activities, EPP Group MEP Lívia Járóka posed a question to the director on how the agency was going to raise the awareness of local Roma communities – with regard to the better implementation of the equality directive – about their rights and possibilities in case of discrimination. Járóka also asked whether the FRA was ready to assist Member States in developing their national Roma inclusion strategies to be submitted by the end of 2011, especially concerning comparable processing and analysis of data related to the crisis map assessed by the European Roma Strategy.
Kjaerum reminded that the inclusion of Roma has become key focus of European human rights discussions, thus EU institutions would need to work on it stronger in the future. The director confirmed their willingness to support Member States in developing their national inclusion plans, and that together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank they were planning to launch a survey to compare the economic situation of Roma and local majority households. Kjaerum believes that via this measure it will be possible to differentiate between discrimination and general poverty, then subsequently to refine the tools of the FRA and the Member States. Concerning the awareness of local communities, the director highlighted that most victims of discrimination had no knowledge of any legal aids, so after setting up national equality bodies and finalizing the institution structure, the next step should be their education and involvement.
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ECMI participates in the panel discussion on European Roma policy under the EU Hungarian Chairmanship “Around the European Roma Policy” in the Schleswig-Holstein Parliament, Kiel

ECMI Deputy Director Ewa Chylinski is taking part in the panel discussion on the issue of better integration of Roma in Europe.  The panel will provide insights into the situation of Roma and the EU policies that the Hungarian EU Chairmanship has declared as one of its key priorities.  In the series of “Discussing with Ambassadors” meetings, the Hungarian Ambassador to Germany, Dr Jozsef Czukor  and Timea Junghaus, of the Roma Cultural Centre in Budapest will be the key speakers at the event.
The  latest events  of Roma discrimination prompted a reaction of the EU to work out a specific Roma inclusion strategy to work on national strategies to improve Roma integration and inclusion. Roma being the largest ethnic minority in Europe with an estimated 10-12 million people, is present in all countries, not only in the EU member states.  Therefore ECMI has established its own Roma related programme to investigate the situation of Roma in the European states, particularly in those with largest Roma populations – e.g. Romania, Serbia , Slovakia, Spain. The ECMI approach relates both to general non-discrimination policies, which cover the basic human rights aspects ,  but also to the policies of recognition of Roma as a national minority and its consequences.
Roma in the political documents of the EU institutions is used as an umbrella designation for several groups with a similar background – Sinti, Travelers etc. although the groups identify themselves otherwise. In the Balkans for example a clear distinction is made between Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians. Roma is also used to avoid often negative connotation with the concept of Gypsy. 

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Government Earmarks EUR 844k for Roma Projects

By way of the Cabinet Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities, the government will try to improve the situation of Roma in Slovakia thanks also to almost EUR 844,000 allocated for social and cultural projects. This is around EUR 60,000 less than last year and EUR 360,000 less than in 2009.
The money will be provided in the form of grants, with applications being accepted by the Cabinet Plenipotentiary office until 3 August. The funding will be allocated to projects that fulfill some cultural or social aspect of Roma life or increase the living standard of Roma communities.
One criterion for receiving a grant, is to demonstrate that at least 5% of the project is covered by co-financing. The projects can be on a wide range of subjects, from education, culture, setting up social or community centres or paying for building repairs or other enhancements.
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The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved a report entitled “The Declaration of Principles on Equality and the Activities of the Council of Europe” at its meeting in Oslo.

The report, submitted by the Rapporteur, Mr Boriss Cilevičs, was approved by a majority vote, following a heated debate and objections by some members. The report contains an analysis of the current implementation of the principles of equality and non-discrimination in the Member States of the Council of Europe, and discusses the central role of equality and non-discrimination in the protection of human rights as enshrined in international law. It also expresses concern at the low level of ratification of Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which extends the scope of the prohibition of discrimination to any right set forth by law.
The report presents the Declaration of Principles on Equality and recommends that the Principles be endorsed by the Committee of Ministers, as guidance for the development of new national equality legislation, as well as the implementation of existing equality provisions in Member States. The preparation of the report was based on a hearing held in Paris on 8 March 2011, at which The Equal Rights Trust provided testimony. The report will now progress to a plenary of the Parliamentary Assembly which may decide to consider further action as a follow-up to the report.
The Declaration of Principles on Equality was developed in 2008 by a group of international human rights and equality experts, under the auspices of The Equal Rights Trust. The Declaration – which consists of 27 principles – expresses the current moral and professional consensus among experts and advocates on the main elements of equality and non-discrimination law and appropriate legal standards.
The Council of Europe is an international organisation which works towards European integration with a focus on legal standards, human rights, democratic development and the rule of law. It was founded in 1949 and has 47 member states. The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights is a standing sub-committee of the Parliamentary Assembly, one of the Council of Europe’s central institutions which comprises national parliamentarians from each of the member states. A synopsis of the Committee’s decision will soon be published here. The text of the report “The Declaration of Principles on Equality and the Activities of the Council of Europe” will soon be published here and will also be available on the website of The Equal Rights Trust.
To see the Declaration of Principle on Equality, click here.
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France prepares (again) to round up and deport 28 000 Romani people back to Romania

France intends to return as many as 28 000 allegedly illegal immigrants, most of them Romani people, back to Romania this year. French Interior Minister Claude Guéant announced the plan in an interview published Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche. Guéant says that 80 % of street theft is Paris is being committed by minors who represent an enormous problem for the French authorities. Guéant wants to initiate a campaign in collaboration with the Romanian authorities against so-called “Romanian crime”. He blamed the previous socialist government for making it possible for 8 000 allegedly illegal immigrants to travel into France annually.
Last summer French authorities began returning mostly Romanian Romani people to their native country and destroying their illegal camps near large cities. The move caused tensions between the European Commission and Pairs when Brussels warned the French they were not respecting EU rules on the free movement of persons. At the time Paris argued that the returns did not meet the definition of expulsions.
Paris has also repeatedly given those who voluntarily return to their native countries payments of EUR 300 per adult and EUR 100 per child to resettle back home. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said last September that the French approach gave the impression that citizens of an EU member state who were also members of an ethnic minority were being targeted for expulsion.
An estimated 10 – 12 million Romani people live in the EU, which has a total population of roughly half a billion people. The Romani minority is the EU’s largest. According to official data, 500 000 Romani people reside in Romania, which has a total population of 22 million. However, the official number is said to be a significant underestimate and is generally assumed to be three times larger in reality.
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European Emissaries Seek to Confront Intolerance and Promote Freedom

The Council of Europe’s group of Eminent Persons—assembled to address the challenges arising from the resurgence of intolerance and discrimination in Europe—has produced a new report on “Living together: Combining diversity and freedom in 21st-century Europe.” The group, commissioned by secretary-general of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland, is led by the former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and is comprised of nine political heavyweights, including Ayşe Kadıoğlu of Turkey and Vladimir Lukin of the Russian Federation. Presented to The Council of Europe on May 11th, the report focused on the increasing levels of intolerance throughout Europe and the threat that intolerance poses to the values of The CoE. Eight major “risks” were identified––rising intolerance; rising support for xenophobic and populist parties; discrimination; the presence of a population virtually without rights; parallel societies; Islamic extremism; loss of democratic freedoms; and a possible clash between “religious freedom” and freedom of expression––followed by 59 “proposals for action” formulated to address these risks.
The group chose to present its findings as a general representation of intolerance in Europe, rather than singling out specific countries for scrutiny. The report indicated that minority groups and immigrants are the victims of widespread discrimination in Europe and that leaders in many European countries are not taking the necessary steps to ensure the safety and equality of all citizens. Roma are particularly affected by this negative dynamic. According to the report’s findings, Roma are persecuted in almost all aspects of their lives. The unemployment rate of Roma women lingers somewhere between 80 and 90 percent and the school drop-out rates of Roma children are alarmingly high.  They are underrepresented in the governments of the countries where they reside and are often used as scapegoats by politicians.  Roma people are often stereotyped as criminals, and anti-Gypsism is widespread.
Human Rights First’s research and advocacy efforts focus on violent hate crimes against Roma. Our most recent set of recommendations for the government of Hungary offered a blueprint for concrete actions necessary to strengthen response to bias-motivated violence against Roma.  The recognition of the plight of the Roma is an integral step forward in guaranteeing the rights and safety of the group. However, it remains to be seen what, if any, steps the CoE will take to urge leaders to make the protection of the Roma a priority.
The Eminent Persons group also found that xenophobia is rampant in Europe and has led to increased support for xenophobic and populist political parties in many countries. Commonly cited stereotypes for anti-immigration positions blame foreigners for stealing jobs, taking advantage of the welfare system, and increasing crime. However, these sentiments are often directed toward people who are in fact the bigots’ fellow citizens who stand out because of the color of their skin or religious practices. The report concludes that little fuss is made over the presence of immigrants that are physically and socially indiscernible from the rest of a country’s citizens.
Despite its having been presented three weeks ago, the report has yet to be given full approval by the Council of Europe. Secretary-general of the Organization, Thorbjorn Jagland, has said that the 47 member states will issue a written response after further examination.  The foreign minister of Ukraine, Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, has called for alterations to the report to take into consideration the specific circumstances of certain countries. 

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