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The article was originally published on the official Joint Programme ROMACTED website.

The kick-off conference of the Joint European Union and Council of Europe ROMACTED Phase II Programme in Serbia was held on 2nd of November at the MPs’ Club in Belgrade.

This extended launching phase allowed us once again to see how relevant and timely ROMACTED is”, stated Tobias Flessenkemper, Head of the Council of Europe Office in Belgrade, in his opening remarks. “Today, therefore, marks an important moment of forging a productive partnership with 14 municipalities across the country which are committed to Roma empowerment”, he concluded.

Gordana Čomić, Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue and National Roma Focal Point in Serbia, noted that the inclusion of the Roma population is a strategic and political goal and that Roma people in Serbia are still not equal in terms of job opportunities, housing, education, and other fundamental rights. “One cannot ban prejudice, but one can pass laws that prohibit behavior based on prejudice and this is where the inclusion of Roma begins. This ministry will actively participate in all projects related to Roma inclusion and we expect the Council of Europe to continue its support, including under the Joint European Union/Council of Europe Programme ROMACTED II”, she underlined.

H.E. Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia, stressed that “every person is entitled to have his/her rights fulfilled, respected and protected and every person can be a valuable member to his and her own society so the more we integrate and include everyone, the more resilient and prosperous societies get! Roma is the EU’s and Serbia’s largest ethnic minority but this population is also a very young one; it is essential to provide them with opportunities for education and decent and proper work and life. Improving the life of the Roma community requests coordination and cooperation of all relevant stakeholders – both on national and local levels. On the national level, we expect the adoption of a revised Strategy and an appropriate action plan so that the planning and implementation of strategic measures are carefully planned. However, the success of national policies strongly depends on the local communities who are on the front line of this task and it is through projects such as this regional one that the EU, together with the Council of Europe, Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, and Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, provides tools and support for them in their work on Roma integration.

State Secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government Stevan Gligorin emphasized that the Ministry remains a dedicated partner in the implementation of the new phase of the ROMACTED Programme. The Ministry will contribute to better communication between local authorities and representatives of the Roma community in order to resolve issues while respecting the specifics of each local context. “I hope that with the second phase of the ROMACTED Programme, we will reach a result and a solution that will be sustainable in the future”, concluded Mr. Gligorin.

For Dalibor Nakić, President of the National Council of the Roma National Minority in Serbia, the importance of the ROMACTED Programme, among other things, “lies in the fact that the need for acting locally has been recognized, as this is the key to successful Roma integration. This process largely depends on the capacity, ability, and readiness of local governments to approach existing problems in a systematic way.” At the same time, Mr. Nakić highlighted the significance of the involvement of the Roma community in the decision-making and policy-making processes, and so it is very important to empower them to make their political participation as active as possible.

For Sonja Licht, President of the Foundation BFPE for a Responsible Society, “ROMACTED is more than a project – it is an incentive for the local Roma community to get involved in solving their burning problems and for local self-government to work much better for everyone with much more intensive participation of citizens in making and implementing decisions that are important for the whole community.”

Marina Vasić, ROMACTED Programme Manager, introduced the novelties of ROMACTED II and provided at a glance information on the joint efforts to date of the Council of Europe and European Union on working on the empowerment of Roma communities through several joint programs/projects since 2011.

Following the opening remarks, the signing ceremony of the Protocols of Co-operation took place between the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, the Council of Europe, and representatives of the partner Cities and Municipalities (Aleksinac, Apatin, Bač, Kostolac, Kragujevac, Kruševac, Lebane, Niš, Pirot, Prokuplje, Subotica, Vrnjačka Banja, Zaječar, and Zvezdara).

Statements from the mayors and municipal officials were presented in a short video film.

Joint European Union/Council of Europe ROMACTED Programme “Promoting good governance and Roma empowerment at the local level” Phase II (2021-2024) is a follow-up to the implementation of Phase I of the ROMACTED Programme in the Western Balkans and Turkey (2017-2020), which will serve to consolidate and expand efforts to improve the integration of Roma populations in local communities through enhanced participation in local policymaking and implementation of local actions. ROMACTED II will continue to assist the local authorities to integrate Roma-specific dimensions/measures into the mainstream local policies, action plans related to these policies, budgets, and public service delivery, thereby enhancing democratic participation and empowerment of local Roma communities.

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