On 31 January, EU Ministers for EU and Foreign Affairs backed the Hungarian Presidency’s ideas on Roma policy and the Danube Strategy, at the General Affairs Council’s meeting in Brussels. For the first time, EU ministers looked for specific solutions for Roma integration at an institutional event.
EU Ministers for European and Foreign Affairs held a meeting in Brussels on 31 January 2011. As acting president, Hungarian Foreign Minister, János Martonyi, presented his counterparts the Presidency’s draft schedule for the adoption of the European Roma Strategy.
A European policy for roma inclusion is needed
Member states endorsed the Presidency’s ideas: the European Commission will present its proposal for the European Framework of National Roma Inclusion Strategies in April, to be discussed by four Council formations; and the Employment and Social Affairs Council will adopt Council conclusions in the subject at its session in May. At the last stage of the process, the European Council will endorse the Roma Strategy at its meeting in June.
EU member states are home to approximately 10-12 million Roma people, the largest ethnic minority in Europe. Most of them are inflicted by social exclusion, discrimination, segregation and deep poverty. The Hungarian Presidency stressed at the Council’s meeting, the adoption of measures to outlaw negative discrimination, is insufficient for changing the Romas’ situation. What we need is a European policy, which efficiently promotes the social and economic inclusion of Romas.
The social pillar of the Europe 2020 Strategy, can play a very important role in this respect, since it incorporates the fight against poverty as a key element. Hungary encourages member states to centralise issues of Roma integration in their national reform programmes.
Finding a solution to the problems is a key political priority not only for member states, but also for the whole EU. Member states have been able to use EU funds for Roma integration, but so far, there has not been a common framework to determine the necessary measures and to guide member states in preparing their respective Roma integration strategies.
Danube Strategy: Presidency builds on experience
The Danube Region Strategy, another priority of the Presidency, was also received positively. The Commission presented its draft strategy on 8 December 2010. At the Council’s meeting on 31 January, ministers of 26 member states found out about the Presidency’s proposals. Presenting the schedule of the adoption process, Mr Martonyi pointed out, the Hungarian Presidency is firmly committed to a formal ratification at the European Council’s meeting in June and the immediate implementation of the measures.
The Hungarian Presidency thinks that major experiences were gained from the Baltic Strategy, the EU’s first macro-regional strategy, was that implementation is a key to success. To this end, the Presidency intends to prepare everything in parallel with the adoption process, so “implementation can kick-start when the Polish Presidency takes over,” the minister said.
In this respect, the positive response at the meeting is an encouraging start. As soon as 3 February, EU Commissioner for Regional Affairs, Johannes Hahn, will appoint coordinators for the individual priority fields; so member states will be responsible for the fulfilment of the objectives. This will allow for negotiations on the first projects to start at an early stage.
The 14 countries affected by the Danube Region Strategy, include six non-EU countries. Foreign Minister Martonyi pointed out that this not only will strengthen neighbourhood relations between the regions, but also forward integration relations between the EU and the West Balkan countries. “It can bring the EU closer to its citizens and promote cooperation with third countries”, the presiding minister noted.
EU summit: energy and innovation in focus
A major item on the agenda was the preparation of the European Council’s meeting, to be held on 4 February. This will be the first thematic summit in the EU’s history, focussing on energy and innovation.
Mr János Martonyi told the Council’s meeting that the Hungarian Presidency considers it as priority to establish a common energy policy and successfully fulfil all related tasks, and also to promote a common energy market and energy security, and the interconnection of member state energy infrastructures.
The Hungarian Presidency declared that it shares the views of Herman van Rompuy, Permanent President of the European Council: innovation helps to preserve competitiveness and solve social problems like aging societies, dwindling energy sources or climate change.
In response to a question, the Hungarian Foreign Minister told a post-meeting press conference that the most important topic of the EU summit on 4 February will be energy and innovation. "Of course EU heads of state and government will have the possibility to discuss other issues as well. I do not believe that they will talk about bail outs, but they will talk about the methods of reaching economic recovery", Mr Martonyi said.
Péter Györkös is Hungary’s Permanent Representative to the European Union. Diplomats carry their duties wherever they are ordered by his superior officers, but Péter Györkös has a “personal attachment” to his present assignment: for more than twenty years, he has been monitoring closely the process of European unification and has actively worked for it in his successive positions.
The program of the Hungarian Presidency, the preparations for the February summit, as well as the Roma strategy and the Danube region strategy will be on the agenda.
Location: Justus Lipsius
Address: Belgium Brussels, Wetstraat, 175
During a public debate, the Hungarian Presidency will present its work programme for the six months ahead.
The Council will discuss the follow-up to the European Council of 16 and 17 December 2010. It will prepare draft conclusions for the European Council's meeting of 4 February which is devoted to energy and innovation.
Ministers will take note of the presentation of the Commission’s first annual growth survey which marks the launch of the European semester of economic policy coordination, as well as of the Presidency's road map.
They will discuss the Roma issue on the basis of a roadmap drafted by the Presidency.
Following a presentation, they will also discuss the Danube region strategy.