[Check Against Delivery]
European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Roma integration is investment for the whole society
Award for Roma Integration 2014
Brussels, 1 October 2014
Excellencies, Honourable Members of the European Parliament, Ladies and gentlemen,
I am happy to welcome you to today's ceremony during which I will award prizes for Roma Integration to civil society organisations from the Western Balkans and Turkey. This is the first time for the European Commission to present such dedicated awards to NGOs in the pre-accession and candidate countries that are working in support of Roma communities. Let me explain why we consider this work to be so important.
First, across the Western Balkans and Turkey, the situation of most Roma communities remains a matter of serious concern. Many Roma are very often the victims of racism, discrimination and social exclusion and live in deep poverty.
Roma communities often lack adequate access to healthcare, education, housing and employment. And not all Roma have their civil documentation in order due to cumbersome and often expensive procedures.
Second, a major challenge is how Roma are perceived. We all - the European Commission, the governments, civil society organisations -need to send out the same message: Roma integration is an important policy. And it is not only investment for the benefit of this minority but it is also an investment to the benefit of society.
Living in an environment in which each member of society contributes with their spirit and work force, will allow countries to grow strong and prosperous, from an economic, social and cultural perspective.
Third, Roma integration is a priority for the European Commission. We want to ensure that disadvantaged Roma communities are economically and socially integrated in the coming years. This holds true also for the enlargement countries preparing for European Union membership. Our vision of the European Union is that of an open and inclusive society which respects and integrates all citizens without discriminating on the basis of race, culture or religion. This is why we have placed the issue high on the political agenda and why we have increased financial support through the Instrument for Pre-Accession for the period 2014 -2020.
Fourth, Civil society organisations play an important role in this process. They are the eyes and ears of society and therefore critical in building a bridge between the governments and the Roma communities. With their knowledge and experience, civil society organisations are best placed to understand the needs of the Roma community and also their frustrations.
These are the reasons why we have come here today. Together with all of you we wish to honour the work of civil society organisations, to make more visible the success of the organisations who work tirelessly to support Roma inclusion in the Western Balkans and Turkey and, last but not least, to congratulate the lucky winners who have set an example for many others to follow.
Out of the numerous applications we received from across the Western Balkans and Turkey, we have short listed the twenty one best projects for the Award for Roma Integration. They are mostly from grass-roots organisations with a substantial number of staff who are Roma themselves.
My message today to the short-listed organisations is that we want to honour the commitment you are making on a daily basis and let you know that your work is recognised. With the Award for Roma Integration we would like to thank you for your work and show you how much it is appreciated!
All of you have in the past days participated in a study tour across the European Institutions and met NGOs working on Roma issues. Some of you will also have the opportunity to participate in the ROMACT Conference jointly organised by the European Commission and the Council of Europe. I hope this trip to Brussels will enrich your knowledge and inspire your work for the future.
It is my pleasure to share this special moment with all of you here today.