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Vice President Shigeo Katsu says EU Needs to Move from Piece-meal to Programmatic Approach to Give Real Change for Roma

EU Roma Summit Brussels
16 September 2008

Keynote Speech
Mr. Shigeo Katsu, Vice President for Europe and Central Asia, The World Bank

Laursen Interview

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the high level global forum on aid effectiveness in Accra in Ghana two weeks ago the European Union took a strong stance in arguing for a plan of action on making development aid more effective. The EU rightly underlined the need to follow not a piece-meal but a programmatic approach to maximize the effectiveness of donor-financed development activities to help the poor around the world.

Today we focus on Europe’s own poor and deprived citizens – the Roma population. And as the European Union and its Member States are increasing their efforts to promote the integration of Roma they face a similar challenge of adopting a systematic approach.  It is in Europe’s self-interest that Roma fully take part in Europe’s society and future.  This is not just for moral reasons, though these are important, too. But it is important to stress that, in times of negative demographic trends, tolerating the exclusion of Roma is also bad economics: Europe is deprived of a workforce in its midst that could meet the demand for jobs currently being filled by foreign workers.

This is why today’s European Roma Summit is an important opportunity to raise Europe’s attention to one of the trickiest social issues across the continent – the widespread and deep social exclusion of its Roma population – and to commit Europe’s governments and institutions to do more, and more systematically, to overcome it. We would like to congratulate the European Commission and the French Presidency for having taken the initiative to convene the Summit.

This Summit is another milestone towards building momentum and political commitment for change for the Roma – following the 2003 high-level conference in Budapest that gave the impetus to launch the Decade of Roma Inclusion and the Roma Education Fund in 2005. It allows participating countries to take stock of how far we have come since 2003 and where more needs to be done. We all know that the picture is mixed, with more progress in some areas than in others and more ambitious action in some countries than in others. However, despite the efforts made so far, it is evident that the challenge of overcoming the marginalization of the Roma in Europe in 2008 remains as formidable as ever.

The need for systematic policy solutions

Looking back at the last several years, we have benefited from building a critical mass of knowledge of interventions that work to promote equal opportunities for Roma in education, health, employment and housing. Just looking at the Roma Education Fund’s activities, plenty of pilot projects have tested new approaches and today we do know a lot more about what works and what does not work. But, taken individually and given the magnitude of the challenges of Roma exclusion, these pilot projects have often remained sporadic and have been effective only at the margin.

We at the World Bank believe, therefore, that real change for Roma will only materialize once the issue of their exclusion moves from the margins to the center of policy-making and the experiences from successful pilots projects are scaled up. Unless we view broader education, health and employment policies also through the lens of Roma exclusion, projects at the margin will, well, be only effective at the margin.

For example, in education too many Roma children still go to segregated, usually low quality schools and leave school without the qualifications they need to make it in today’s knowledge-based economy. Clearly, while efforts to overcome segregation are laudable, they are not independent of the overall system of education finance and management. In addition to the need for designated desegregation programs for Roma it matters whether schools receive their budgets based on the numbers of students or not and whether there is a higher allocation for special needs schools. Or, to take another example from the labor market, whether or not the employment services have the capacity to provide highly individualized services for the most disadvantaged long-term unemployed will determine if Roma really get the support they need to get a job. 

A policy-based approach implies identifying specific barriers to integration of Roma in education, employment, health care and housing and adjusting public service management and delivery to overcome such barriers. This is often not straightforward. A forthcoming World Bank study jointly prepared with the Czech Government on policies to promote employment chances of the Roma finds that education and skill levels among socially disadvantaged Roma appear worse than previously thought and that personal indebtedness acts as a major barrier to look for formal employment. New policy solutions need to be designed to overcome such barriers.

The need for a European approach

Roma exclusion is a pan-European challenge, and making a difference for Roma requires a concerted effort at the European, national and local level. We at the World Bank share the view that systematic policies to overcome the exclusion of Roma will be more effective if placed in a broader European Union framework – through a European Roma Policy or Strategy with clear targets that builds on the Decade of Roma Inclusion. Let me make a number of concrete proposals for elements of such a framework:

First, participating governments need to renew their Decade of Roma Inclusion commitments and adopt an action agenda with a focus on promoting policy change for Roma inclusion. Crucially, this should include firm targets for policies in education, employment, health, housing ands gender equality.  It is perhaps the Decade’s biggest omission not to have set solid targets and outcome monitoring mechanisms.

Second, implementing this action agenda would need a solid policy coordination forum at the EU level – an Open Method of Coordination for Roma inclusion. This would convene policy experts across education, health, employment and housing to develop new policy solutions and benefit from experience across Europe – EU Member States and non-Member States – and around the world. This effort could build on the mechanisms of the Decade of Roma Inclusion that brings together experts from governments of EU Member States and those that aspire to join the EU, Roma civil society, the European Commission and international partners. 

Third, promoting policy change benefits from using proven instruments such as the Roma Education Fund that operates in many countries across Europe. The Roma Education Fund can serve as a formal knowledge base and technical adviser to Governments and European institutions on Roma education policy directly and in an Open Method of Coordination. 

Fourth, policy design needs a solid evidence base and that requires data. Due to the absence of household data disaggregated by ethnicity we know recklessly little about the depth of the challenge of Roma exclusion and whether government efforts are really making a difference. This is an area for Eurostat’s leadership.

Fifth, policy change needs a culture of experimenting and evaluation. We have to recognize that there are no simple, guaranteed solutions. Developing an effective policy response to Roma exclusion requires identifying good experience from around the world, adjusting it to the national context and then having the courage to test an intervention and rigorously evaluate whether it works or not.

Last, policy change needs financing. European Structural and Regional Funds as well as pre-accession funds can play a crucial role in fostering sustained and systematic policies for Roma inclusion. We agree with our Commission colleagues that the challenge is to strategically use these funds for policy change. This requires capacity at national level to program and utilize European funds for strategic policy reform rather than for piece meal interventions. And it requires pulling in international best practice knowledge in devising such programs. Why not use the experience of the REF formally in the programming of EU Funds for education purposes?

The contribution of the World Bank

Ladies and gentlemen, making a difference for Roma in Europe requires political commitment, the right institutions and know-how. Today’s Summit takes us a long way forward to raising the political commitment at national and European levels. Where we at the World Bank can contribute is on know-how.

The World Bank remains as committed to the Roma inclusion agenda as ever, and in particular to supporting countries in developing systematic policy solutions for Roma inclusion. The World Bank is ready to contribute its global knowledge base on social inclusion policies within any common platform for policy coordination on Roma inclusion at the EU level. For example, to name just a few policy interventions with positive results:

  • Conditional Cash Transfers have shown promising results in raising school attendance of children from poor and excluded families in Mexico and Brazil and are now increasingly being introduced in highly developed countries, for example in the United Kingdom and places like New York City.  They are a promising tool to promote better schooling outcomes for Roma. The World Bank will shortly publish a major study on the global experience on Conditional Cash Transfers, which we are happy to share with partners here.
  • The SureStart early childhood program in the United Kingdom and other such programs across Europe and many middle income countries show innovative ways to promote school readiness of children from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds. There is a lot to learn from this experience for Roma.
  • Highly individualized employment activation services run by specialized agencies have shown encouraging results in placing long-term unemployed members of the Aborigine population in Australia.

Ladies and gentlemen, the European Union is a union of common values. The principle of equal opportunities for all is at the core of these values, and we are proud that Europe has gone further than most parts of the world in providing equal opportunities to its citizens.  Yet we know that many Roma in Europe remain left out. Five minutes before midnight, the window of opportunity for realizing the endeavor of social inclusion of the Roma is now.

The World Bank prides itself as a development organization with a global base and reach; but in terms of ownership, historical ties, and development learning we have very strong European leanings. Thus the Roma exclusion issue is also our issue. We stand ready to support all initiatives decided upon today to making the common value of equal opportunities a reality.

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