European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion:  Consultation meeting with cities, regions and stakeholders

(Strasbourg, 25 September 2012)

Speech by Secretary General Andreas Kiefer

Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

Council of Europe

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to the very first Consultation Meeting on the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion.

The Alliance project represents joint efforts by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, the Special Representative of the Council of Europe Secretary General for Roma issues, cities and regions themselves, and partner organisations. The decision to create the Alliance was taken by the Summit of Mayors on Roma, held 1 year ago on 22 September 2011 in Strasbourg, which recognised the need for a pan-European framework to pursue cooperation between municipalities and regions in support of Roma inclusion.

The Summit itself was a response to the Strasbourg Declaration, adopted in October 2010 by the Council of Europe member states at their High-Level Meeting on Roma.  This declaration represents a joint pledge to cooperate on Roma issues and implement schemes that involve Roma communities in building a better future. The High-Level Meeting recognised the crucial importance of local and regional action in implementing national strategies and measures for Roma inclusion.

Local and regional authorities indeed make the major contribution to these efforts and no real progress in advancing the situation of Roma can be achieved without their commitment and action. The politicians and the staff in the municipal and regional administrations know best the needs, circumstances and capacities for action of their communities, and they can ensure an optimal use of local resources to achieve the objectives pursued. Most importantly, they are the most familiar with local residents themselves, both Roma and non-Roma, having a possibility of working with them directly. It is also at local and regional level where the results of public action have the most impact on our citizens.

While good progress has been made so far with initiatives and programmes launched at various levels, there are still very important challenges ahead in ensuring full inclusion of Roma communities. To this end, strong efforts will be necessary to build up further the capacity both at national level and at regional and at local level.

After one year of work in a Core Group of cities and regions on defining the terms of reference and future activities of the Alliance – which included sending a questionnaire to regional and local authorities in Council of Europe Member States to collect information on their concrete needs, priorities and interests – we would like to present today the objectives and proposed working methods of the Alliance, to discuss needs and priorities in the field, analyse the relevance of the Alliance and possible activities, and to envisage cooperation, interaction and synergies.

In our vision, the Alliance will work in close cooperation with other institutions and initiatives dealing with Roma issues, in particular the European Commission.  The Alliance shall and will ensure that its activities represent a real added value to its members and respond effectively to the existing need for cooperation and mutual support.

A crucial aspect of the Alliance work will be facilitating exchange and coordination among various existing initiatives and networks to build synergies that reinforce our joint action. Another crucial aspect will be strengthening local and regional capacity for project development and implementation and for securing the necessary funding.

This is exactly the aim of our meeting today, which is to discuss with you, potential participants in activities of the Alliance, experts, partners and other stakeholders that have already launched or are supporting initiatives and programmes with the same objectives, how to combine and coordinate our efforts. Our common goal is to raise capacity and help improve the situation at the grassroots.  Council of Europe action, however, cannot substitute activities in the municipalities and regions. Our aim is to provide support and establish a platform of and for the like-minded.

Our intention was to begin with a small-scale meeting and to have a lively and open discussion on these issues. This is why we have made a selection of cities and regions on the basis of their responses to the questionnaire and their participation in the Summit of Mayors on Roma as well as in the Council of Europe’s ROMED training programme and in the pilot housing scheme of the European Commission. We have also invited external partners as well as Council of Europe departments involved in Roma activities.

Last but not least, while the primary participants in the Alliance are local and regional authorities, the necessary synergies and coordination must be ensured not only with other institutional partners but also with Roma communities themselves. The issue of Roma participation in local and regional communities, the “building for and with Roma” aspect must feature prominently on the Alliance’s agenda, because no efficient implementation of programmes is possible without Roma involvement, if the voice of Roma is not heard.

This is why we have also invited several Roma associations and networks for this meeting, whose representatives I welcome here today, and I regret that some other initiatives such as the ERGO network and the Decade for Roma Inclusion were not able to take part. We plan to continue involving Roma organisations in specific activities of the Alliance based on their profile and expertise in a particular field.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Once again, I welcome you to the Consultation Meeting and wish you fruitful and constructive discussions today which will lead to concrete activities in “your”, in “one” Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion.