BRUSSELS, September 16, 2008— The World Bank today urged policymakers in Europe to focus attention on one of the trickiest issues across the continent – the widespread and deep economic and social exclusion of its Roma population – and to commit Europe’s governments and institutions to do more, and more systematically, to overcome it.
Commending the European Commission and the French Presidency for having taken the initiative to convene the European Commission’s first ‘EU Roma Summit’, held today in Brussels, Shigeo Katsu, Vice President for the Europe and Central Asia Region of the World Bank and keynote speaker at the Summit, said in his statement that, “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 that will be increasingly difficult to fill given the demographic transition.”
He argued that systematic policies to integrate Roma will be more effective if they are placed in a broader EU framework with clear targets and a coordination mechanism that builds on the Decade of Roma Inclusion, the joint initiative of twelve countries in Europe launched in 2005.
According to Katsu, “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.”
Katsu explained how countries have benefited in recent years from building a critical mass of knowledge of interventions that work to promote equal opportunities for Roma in education, in particular through the work of the Roma Education Fund, as well as in health, employment, and housing. But, taken individually and given the magnitude of the challenges of Roma exclusion, pilot projects have often been effective only at the margin.
“We at the World Bank believe,” said Katsu, “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 pilot 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.”
In his statement, Katsu stressed that Roma exclusion is a pan-European challenge, and making a difference for Roma requires a concerted effort at the European, national and local level. “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. The World Bank stands ready to support all initiatives decided upon at the Summit to making the common value of equal opportunities a reality.”
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