Speech/statement | Date: 29/09/2015
State Secretary Elsbeth Tronstad gave this opening statement when she opened the conference "A quarter century after - Regional conference on Roma and discrimination" - in Cluj 29 September.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A quarter of a century ago, the Europe that had emerged from the Second World War was radically changed. The division into two ideological blocks collapsed. Countries in eastern and southeastern Europe began to be integrated into organisations like the Council of Europe, and later Nato and the EU. Membership in these organisations involves both rights and the obligation to build inclusive and just societies.
During the past 25 years, considerable economic and social progress has been made. However, equal rights and a decent life are still not a reality for all – in particular for Europe's Roma population.
This is not acceptable. Significant challenges remain, not least in the countries with large Roma minorities. And within our European family we have a shared responsibility to meet these challenges. Targeted programmes under the EEA and Norway Grants are my country's contribution. Through the Grants, Norway - together with Iceland and Liechtenstein - aims to to help redusere social and economic disparities in Europe.
The European Roma are a diverse and heterogeneous group. Far too many live under difficult economic and social conditions. They are subjected to intolerance and discrimination and suffer exclusion from mainstream society.
The EEA and Norway Grants that are earmarked for the Roma aim to strengthen their ability to improve their own social and economic situation. Of the 16 recipient countries covered by the grant scheme, five have been designated as focus countries because they have particularly large Roma populations. These countries are Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
The EEA and Norway Grants scheme takes a broad approach, emphasising both fundamental rights and social and economic inclusion. Areas for support include projects for vulnerable children and youth, education, research, and gender equality. Other projects seek to strengthen the culture and identity of the Roma people.
Close contact with the EU
Cooperation and dialogue with other European actors and governments are vital in these efforts. We attach great importance to working with civil society and strengthening their efforts in areas such as culture and identity. We have close contact with the EU to ensure that our projects are consistent with the EU framework for national Roma integration strategies.
Although the programmes we fund focus on improving the social and economic conditions for Roma people, the measures are not designed exclusively for people with Roma backgrounds. The situation of non-Roma living in the same neighbourhoods will often be just as difficult. Therefore, we try to focus our efforts on areas where many Roma live, but also include other vulnerable Romanians. The aim is to raise the standard of living for all those living in these neighbourhoods that are struggling.
It is important to concentrate our efforts on children and young people. In the long term, education is probably the most effective way of helping excluded and vulnerable groups to improve their situation. According to a pilot survey conducted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, the enrolment rate of Roma children in pre-school education is less than 40% of the national average, and fewer than 25% of Roma children complete the eighth grade. A lack of education, combined with discrimination, results in very limited employment opportunities and an extremely low income per household. It has been said that if all Roma children were to complete secondary education, many of today's problems could be solved.
These efforts must start in day-care centres. One problem has been that children who speak only Romani at home are left behind when they start school. We support day-care centres where children who speak only Romani are given lessons in the national language. This will make them better prepared when they begin to attend school. We have experienced that this approach works in Norway. Children who attend day-care centres learn more Norwegian and are therefore better prepared to learn when they start school.
Educating children has a long-term perspective and does not have an immediate effect on the individual family's circumstances. Even so, it is the best way to improve the situation in Roma communities, where there is currently an overall employment rate of only 36 %.
Young people who complete their education have greater opportunities to obtain gainful employment and later to support their family. This is particularly true for girls. If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a whole family. Young girls who complete their education are less likely to be married at an early age. A mother who has received an education will probably ensure that her own children also get a good education.
In seeking to promote education among the Roma, we may encounter traditional and cultural challenges. These challenges can only be solved through cooperation with local communities, local leaders, organisations and governments. In the field of health care, support is provided for the development of networks for Roma mediators and nurses, with a particular focus on maternal and child health, reproductive health and the control of communicable diseases.
Training programmes for police and prison services have been initiated to increase knowledge and create a better understanding of the situation of the Roma. One aspect of these training programmes is to teach Romani to police and prison personnel, thereby facilitating communication between these officials and the Roma they meet.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Each of us has a responsibility to combat discrimination and harassment targeting individuals and groups. Although we have laws, international conventions and declarations that provide protection against these phenomena, they alone cannot prevent the emergence of prejudices and intolerance. Prohibition alone does not prevent individuals and groups from being subjected to degrading treatment because of their ethnicity.
Increased knowledge of the Roma people and their contribution to our common European culture is probably the most important tool we have for combating intolerance of this kind. Such knowledge must be fostered and shared. This will help to increase an understanding of Roma people within mainstream society as well as improving the Roma people's perception of their own worth.
The fight against discrimination and exclusion must be fought on several fronts. Each country's authorities are responsible for having legislation in place that allows them to crack down on discrimination and harassment and actively to enforce such legislation.
Article 1 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that 'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.' We all share the responsibility to create societies based on tolerance and respect for each other.
I wish you all a very successful conference.