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EU to urge member countries to do more for Roma integration

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(BUCHAREST) - The European Commission will Tuesday again push all member states to do more to improve the situation of the Roma people after a French crackdown on the minority drew international criticism.

"The commission would like to see more programmes from every country to improve the situation of the Roma people," Cristina Arigho, spokewoman for Europe's commissioner on inclusion, told AFP ahead of a two-day conference in Bucharest.

The conference aims to promote the use of EU funds to improve the socio-economic situation of the 10 to 12 million Roma living in Europe.

It will be attended by Europe's Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Commissioner Laszlo Andor, Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, Romanian officials and Roma support groups.

The commission uses Roma as an umbrella term for the Roma, Sintis, traveller and gypsy communities.

Roma and Gypsies face discrimination, poverty, housing segregation as well as education and labour market barriers.

In Slovakia, for example, only three percent of Roma children finish secondary education. In Bulgaria the Roma unemployment rate is above 50 percent and in Greece above 30 percent, according to a 2010 report by the EURoma network.

In Romania only 25 to 30 percent of Roma have a steady job, the director of the National agency for Roma, Ilie Dinca, told AFP.

All member states were given access to large amounts of EU funds to enhance Roma inclusion but "they need to spend them faster", the commission said.

Romania for example is lingering behind.

According to official figures given by the office of Commissioner Andor, Bucharest used only about one percent of the 2.25 billion euros made available by the European Social Fund between 2007 and 2013 to improve the situation of vulnerable groups.

Bulgaria used only five percent while the European average is around 16 percent.

Romania's Roma community is the biggest in Europe: the official census puts the number at 530,000 people but some pressure groups say it is as high as 2.5 million, with most Roma do not declare themselves as such fearing discrimination.

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