Less than half of Roma children living in the European Union finish school, according to the EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. As part of a new EU-wide strategy, Reding says their access to education must improve.
The lucky ones: Roma children at school in Macedonia
More jobs, better housing and improved access to education - those were the goals outlined by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding in Strasbourg on Tuesday as part of a new common EU strategy for the mainstream integration of Roma.
"To my mind, the most important goal is that all Roma children get a school education," said Reding.
Of the 10 to 12 million Roma living in the European Union, just 42 percent finish their education. That compares with an average of 97 percent for all children. Reding said if Roma children had more access to education, they would have a better chance on the job market.
EU member states have until the end of this year to lay down an integration strategy, the implementation of which would be examined annually by the commission.
Gaps in the proposals
Roma make up Europe's biggest minority group, but many live in poverty
Nele Meyer of Amnesty International, who works in Brussels on the Roma issue and lobbies the EU to improve their measures for integration, welcomes the strategy, but says it doesn't go far enough to address the issue of discrimination.
"We fear that it will only focus on socio-economic aspects of the situation for the Roma today," Meyer explained to Deutsche Welle. "And while it is very important to address the poverty of Roma, it is just not sufficient. We have to also look at discrimination with regard to the citizenship of Roma.
"Some of them are not allowed to vote and they don't have identity papers," Mayer added. "We see discrimination in law enforcement, we see discrimination in society… and we fear this won't be addressed in the framework… and if so that would be a severe and significant gap."
France was one of a number of member states which called on the EU to come up with a common strategy. The French government was heavily criticized last year after breaking up a number of illegal camps and deporting Roma to Eastern Europe.
France deported hundreds of Roma last year
At the time, the European Commission described the deportations as a "disgrace." But Meyer expects France will welcome this strategy.
"The case of what happened last year in France is actually not part of the framework at the moment," Meyer said. "And that's the big danger that we actually warn about - that the framework at the moment has too narrow a focus."
The commission says there would be economic benefits from integrating Roma into society. In the Berliner Tagesspiegel newspaper, Reding referred to calculations by the World Bank, which suggest the Roma could contribute up to 2 billion euros ($2.8 billion) to European economies if integration issues were tackled.
Reding added that it was important that access to health services improve. In some states infant mortality rates among Roma families is six times higher than average, according to the UN. Life expectancy for Roma is 10 years below that of other EU citizens.
"That cannot go on," Reding told the newspaper.
The proposals put forward in the EU strategy will be hammered out at a summit in June.
Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa, epd, KNA)
Editor: Martin Kuebler