Roma people have been part of many of Europe's societies for a very long time, and have contributed to our culture and values. Few people know that Roma are actually Europe's largest ethnic minority, with around six out of 10-12 million living in the EU.
Few people also know that Roma greatly suffered during world war II: they were systematically executed, and in some countries, more than 80 per cent of their population was exterminated. Unfortunately, the genocide of Roma people by the Nazi and other regimes is still largely ignored, not acknowledged by the broad public, and is often not recognised or taught in schools.
European Roma genocide memorial day will rightfully commemorate the atrocities which occurred 70 years ago and will bring some kind of comfort and reconciliation to all the victims. Recent tragic events in Paris and Copenhagen have reminded us of the rise of extremism, nationalism, xenophobia as well as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, which present a big threat to our democratic societies, fundamental freedoms and peace.
Every day, Roma people face not only discrimination based on their ethnic background, but also stigma, social exclusion and segregation and sometimes even violence, which is particularly concerning. They often live isolated in poor conditions and face limited access to employment opportunities, education, health and social services and to the decision-making process.
Such a situation is not acceptable under the high European standards we have managed to create for ourselves in the last few decades. Protection of fundamental rights and values must prevail over our prejudices, ignorance, intolerance or fear.
The recent refusal to give a proper burial to a Roma baby in France is one among many incidents of discrimination and violence across Europe. Such occurrences are unacceptable and I strongly condemn the EU for its lack of action.
I am extremely proud that the S&D group, together with its own Roma MEPs, has been and will remain at the forefront of the fight against anti-gypsyism. We must lead by example. We must engage continuously in a dialogue between Roma and non-Roma stakeholders through various means. In the S&D group, we have a successful traineeship programme for people of Roma origin. Only mutual respect and understanding will bring us closer together.
A lot of work remains ahead of us in crafting the framework for the implementation of the national Roma integration strategy 2020, and the S&D group has played a key role.