Latest News03 Jul 2019
Roma Declaration – A new Energy for Regional Cooperation
The Ministers of economy, interior and foreign affairs of the economies participating in the Berlin Process will meet in Poznan on 4 and 5 July 2019. The Summit will also be attended by representatives of the European Commission (EC), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), regional organizations and international financial institutions.
The Berlin Process is envisaged to step up the regional cooperation in the Western Balkans and aid its integration into the European Union. It is supplementary to the individual economies’ institutional EU integration process and focuses on regional connectivity. The connectivity agenda refers to linking the people (social dimension), economies (economic dimension) and governments (political dimension) of the region. Thus far a number of initiatives and projects have yielded in the fields of transport and infrastructure, economic connectivity, youth cooperation and cooperation among businesses and among the civil societies of the Western Balkans. It also inspired intergovernmental cooperation through entities set up during its course: the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), the Western Balkans Chambers Investment Forum (WBCIF) and the Western Balkans Fund (WBF).
A brand new initiative within the Berlin Process is the cooperation of the Western Balkans region on the issue of Roma integration.
The European Union has recognised the need to scale up the efforts to integrate Roma in the Western Balkans with its EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020, and has committed to assist the governments of the Western Balkans in its endeavours to integrate Roma. Besides the sizable funding through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA), the EU is providing the region support in maintaining dialogue with the civil society and ensuring proper monitoring, notably through the Regional Cooperation Council’s implemented action Roma Integration.
Roma integration is also an important part of the negotiation process within the EU integration, with particular emphasis on the issue placed within the Chapter 23 on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, but also being mainstreamed in other chapters, such as Chapter 19 on Social Policy and Employment. Roma integration is closely assessed in each report of the European Commission on each of the Western Balkans economies. The assessment is guided by a range of information, including the 2017 Regional Roma Survey of the European Commission, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank.
Besides the importance of the Roma Integration for the process of integration of the Western Balkans in the European Union, the issue is recognised as important for the EU accession by 68%, and for regional cooperation by 64% of the respondents involved in the Balkan Barometer 2018 survey of the Regional Cooperation Council.
Both the requirements for EU accession and the public view on the issue of Roma integration, renders it important for the Berlin Process and for enhanced commitment and regional cooperation thereof. Thus, the Governments of the Western Balkans are proposing a Declaration of Western Balkans Partners on Roma Integration within the EU Enlargement Process. The declaration specifies the targets in Roma integration to be achieved by the Western Balkans economies by the time each becomes a Member State of the European Union. These targets are increase in the employment rate, legalisation of homes, increase in completion rate in primary and secondary education, increase in health insurance coverage, ensuring civil registration. Although the set targets are less than the existing rates for the overall populations in the Western Balkans, they are still ambitious and motivating enough to ensure development momentum with prospect to reach full equality and ensure no one is left behind on the path to the EU.
In their cooperative efforts to reach the targets established with the Declaration, the Western Balkans partners also commit to combat discrimination against Roma, make sure data to measure the progress towards the targets are available, strengthen their National Roma Contact Points and their important role of coordination, ensure enough funding for implementation, and, last but not least, ensure formal channels for engagement of local governments and Roma communities.
Furthermore, with the Declaration, the Western Balkans partners express their hope and call upon the European Union to continue and strengthen the support and cooperation on the important issue of Roma integration. The adoption and the observance of the proposed Declaration will certainly send the signal towards the European Union on the commitment of the Western Balkans. The present Declaration has the potential to guide the individual governments, the regional cooperation and the efforts for EU integration on the issue of Roma integration.