Dear Deputy Minister of Health and Social Protection, Mr Nikolla,
Dear Deputy Head of the Council of Europe Office in Tirana, Mr. Dekovi,
Dear Mr. Afflerbach,
Representatives of Albanian authorities and civil society partners,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is for me personally very important to come together every year, on the occasion of the International Roma Day, to celebrate the history and culture of the Roma around the world and in Albania.
I want, on this occasion, to bring a message of friendship and support – on behalf of the European Union - to our Roma and Egyptian friends.
Unfortunately, every year we need to remind ourselves of the difficult living conditions that Roma and Egyptians face in Albania, where the already existing inequalities have been further enhanced by the pandemic.
COVID 19 has also brought a documented increase of deep-rooted discrimination against this community all around Europe.
The EU condemns all forms of stigmatisation, “anti-gypsyism”, which are contrary to the EU values and against the basic principles of democracy.
I am therefore pleased that last March the EU Council has adopted a set of Recommendations on Roma equality, inclusion and participation) as well as the new EU Roma Strategic Framework 2020-2030 last October.
They will have a direct impact in EU Member States. But we call on governments of partners countries, and even more on countries that should become EU Member States, to use these tools to update national policies.
The EU recognises that antigypsyism is a root cause for socio-economic exclusion. Combatting anti-gypsism and discrimination is therefore a key element of the new strategy.
Overcoming discrimination and exclusion of Roma is not an easy task: it requires a long-term commitment and a comprehensive approach by governments, with the support of independent institutions (such as the Commissioner for Protections against Discrimination) and the active engagement of the civil society.
Thanks to the commitment of the Western Balkans governments at the Sofia Summit last November, the Roma inclusion file is gaining a new momentum also in Albania.
In the near future Albania will be required to progressively align with much more ambitious Roma inclusion policies.
It is also important that sufficient staff and resources are earmarked both at national and local level to ensure proper implementation and monitoring of Roma inclusion policies.
Since 2014, the EU has invested over 80 million euro in Roma integration in the Western Balkans. And we will continue to provide support in stepping up efforts to help align action in Albania with EU Roma inclusion policies.
It is essential that EU-funded targeted projects are designed with the involvement of the Roma community and Roma led CSOs from the start. Participation and ownership are key to success.
It is also essential that anti-discrimination measures are mainstreamed in all relevant policies and programmes. This will include also those programmes that are to be agreed in the framework of our next financial cycle under IPA III programme.
I would like to conclude by acknowledging the important efforts of the civil society organisations that on a daily basis promote social inclusion, anti-discrimination and provide services for the most vulnerable citizens in Albania.
The role of the civil society is essential to combat anti-gypsism, to hold the government to account in terms of the integration efforts, and to propose and test innovative ways forward.
For the role they play in the democratic development of Albania, the EU will continue supporting civil society and, in particular, the Roma CSOs.
I wish a great and equal International Roma Day to all.