EU and Roma community leaders on Tuesday sought to discuss the difficulties encountered by one of Europe's biggest minorities. The meeting comes amid controversy over Italian steps to fingerprint the country's Roma residents.
FRANCE 24 has been following the story of a Roma community forced to evacuate their dwellings in a Paris suburb.
EU and Roma community leaders on Tuesday sought to end discrimination and poverty suffered by one of Europe's biggest minorities, with Italy's treatment of Roma casting a cloud over a summit.
The meeting of some 400 government, Roma and civil society officials comes amid controversy over an Italian move to fingerprint Roma, including children, which was watered down under pressure from rights groups and Brussels.
"The problem which we are facing together -- as political leaders and citizens, as members of majority societies and as Roma -- is one of great urgency," European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said.
"Mainstream societies need to offer the Roma a real, practical chance to improve their perspectives," he said, as he opened the one-day summit in Brussels.
Some Roma community members wore T-shirts marked "No to ethnic profiling."
According to the EU's executive commission, millions of European gypsies face widespread discrimination, high poverty and unemployment.
Life expectancy for Roma, who number around 10 million in the 27-nation bloc, is 10-15 years lower than those of other Europeans.
The meeting targets Roma exclusively because they are seen suffering more than other minorities in Europe, with a lack of education and training and access to citizenship, feeding negative stereotypes.
"The area where not enough support is given is in the area of education," Hungarian-born US businessman George Soros said on the sidelines of the meeting.
"There isn't a source of support, and that's where the (EU) member states need to come together and provide the funds," he told reporters.
Soros said his foundation had pioneered programmes with pre-school children that had provided good results, and urged the EU to consider mentoring young Roma to ensure that they complete their education.
Ahead of the summit, rights groups led by Amnesty International urged the EU to tackle the problems and protect the rights of Roma people.
"Enough time has passed, there needs to be a framework with objectives and deadlines," the groups said in a statement.
In a thinly-veiled swipe at Italy, they said: "EU institutions and member states should, at this summit, ensure the fight against Roma discrimination is based on social inclusion policies, not on repression and security measures."
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government has appointed special officials to rid Milan and other big cities of Roma camps.
His fingerprint plan, which recalled dark times in Europe's past, was widely condemned, but under pressure the government said it would be used as a last resort only for people who could not be identified.
"Ethnic profiling is unacceptable," said EU Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimir Spidla. "The commission must use all the measures necessary to protect personal information."
He said the commission would remain vigilant.
"We have to demonstrate that the values we defend outside are alive here and that we are exemplary on this matter," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.
Soros said he thought Europe's courts should investigate such moves.
"I think that this is a legal matter that the courts ought to decide," he said. "I suspect that fingerprinting involves racial profiling."
In Athens, meanwhile, a senior United Nations official told Greece to take urgent measures to improve quality of life for Roma who are "living in an unacceptable situation" there.
Date created : 2008-09-16