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Racial Discrimination can seriously harm the unity and integrity of the EU – Romanian Minister of Labour Mariana Câmpeanu 

Racial Discrimination can seriously harm the unity and integrity of the EU – Romanian Minister of Labour Mariana Câmpeanu

Tuesday 16 April, 2013  -THE OSLO TIMES EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS –

The Oslo Times Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Hatef Mokhtar (L) interview with Honourable Romanian Minister of Labour, Ms. Mariana Câmpeanu(R)

TOT: Trafficking for labour exploitation is an emerging issue in the region and particularly in Romania and neighbouring countries. What progress has been made to address this issue that has affected the Romanian society?

Mariana Câmpeanu: Human trafficking is a violation of human rights and an offense to the dignity and integrity of the human being, a threat to individual security and social and moral values. However, the society bears the negative influences caused by growing corruption, antisocial and violent acts, criminal mechanisms that obtain substantial profits from this activity affecting the economic stability and the regional security. Although it is on the international agenda since 2000, human trafficking as a crime and social phenomenon is still a reality that requires sustained and continuous effort from the international bodies of each state, but also the whole society. Being aware of the negative effects of the devastating impact that it has this scourge on children, youth, women and vulnerable social categories becomes a fundamental requirement of institutional approach in modern rule of law.

Reaction against human trafficking involves several aspects: as illegal economic activity, human trafficking is one of the main financial resources of organized crime; as a major violation of fundamental human rights, is an offense to human dignity which Romania can not overlook; as cross-border illegal activity is an element that threatens the security and important area of cooperation within the EU and in partnership with states, regions and third international organizations.

In Romania there is a specialised body, the National Agency Against Human Trafficking, which is subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, with responsibilities for coordination, evaluation and monitoring of national policies in the field of trafficking in persons by the public institutions, as well as those from the field of protection and assistance given to the victims thereof. However, the Agency is the glue between the victim of human trafficking and law enforcement bodies and between them and NGOs in the country providing services in this area. The Agency cooperates with Romanian and foreign nongovernmental organizations to raise public awareness about human trafficking and its consequences.

The Agency initiated and completed National Strategy Against Human Trafficking for the period 2006 – 2010, and has developed and is implementing the National Strategy Against Human Trafficking for the period 2012-2016.

In implementing the Strategy were involved public institutions with responsibilities in the area of human trafficking and non-governmental organizations engaged in prevention and assistance for victims of this phenomenon. Among the institutions participating in the development of the strategy and involved in combating human trafficking phenomenon was the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Protection for the Elderly, represented by the Labour Inspection Directorate, Child Protection Directorate, Protection for People with Disabilities Directorate, the National Agency for Employment.

National Strategy against Trafficking aims to prioritize and invigorate the activities of state institutions, international organizations and non-governmental organizations in the fight against human trafficking, reasoning the inter-institutional and international cooperation, bringing the problematic reality of this phenomenon in the collective mentality by reference to the negative effects involved.

In the last few years, several reports of international bodies in the field have made a series of positive appreciation on the efforts of the Romanian authorities, aimed at preventing and combating the phenomenon, aimed at improving assistance to victims. These efforts include the adoption and periodical updating of legislation on trafficking, the establishment of an appropriate institutional framework and the introduction of a national mechanism for the identification and referral of human trafficking to specialized assistance services. In addition, the efforts of the Romanian authorities and non-governmental organizations have been stepped up in the direction of prevention of human trafficking cases, prosecution, investigation and conviction of traffickers in the national system of Justice.

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TOT: The Romanian Constitution (Article 16) stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law and public authorities, without any privileges or discrimination. The principle of equality between the sexes is explicitly regulated under Article 4 of the Romanian Constitution and in a number of other national regulations. Romania boasts a well articulated and non-discriminatory de jure framework.

How would you describe this situation and the implementation of women’s rights in the country in parlance with the European Union’s evaluation and norms?

Mariana Câmpeanu: Indeed, the Romanian legislation in the field of equality between women and men is fully consistent with the relevant Community legislation, EU regulations are transposed by regulations that promote the rights of women and men, without discrimination on grounds of sex.

In Romania, equal opportunities and equal treatment between women and men – as a fundamental principle of human rights – is transposed both at legislative level and within the public policy. The principle is established by current law governing the measures to promote equal opportunities and equal treatment between women and men in all spheres of public life in Romania. In line with the community acquis, the law defines specific terms of the domain, such as equality of opportunity and treatment between men and women, discrimination on grounds of sex, direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment, equal pay for work of equal value, positive actions, multiple discrimination, provides for equal access of women and men to the labour market, education, health, culture and information, as well as the attributions of the institutions responsible for the application of the principle of equality between women and men.

Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Protection of the Elderly implements the public policy of the Government in the field of equality of opportunity and treatment between men and women through a series of actions and specific measures, included not only in the Governmental Programme for the period 2013-2016, but also in a number of other strategic documents such as the National Strategy for equality between women and men for 2006-2009 and the National Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2012, both approved by Government Decision.

National Strategy for equality between women and men for the period 2010 – 2012 aims to answer through concrete measures and activities the problematic situations that have been identified in various specific areas of intervention, such as education, employment, social life, roles and gender stereotypes, participation in decision-making.

Given the importance of continuing to promote the principle of equality between women and men and taking into consideration the commitments made by Romania in this field as a member state of the European Union, the Ministry is currently developing a new National Strategy for Equal Gender Opportunities, underlying the strategic vision of Romania in this field for the next period.

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TOT: Although Romania has made important steps forward in the field of gender equality and it is moving in the right direction, the pace is not fast enough. What have been the reasons for this and how is the government planning to introduce more social reforms in the society?

Mariana Câmpeanu: As you have noticed, Romania has made significant progress in the field of equal opportunities and treatment between men and women.

We must not forget that equality between women and men is a social process conditioned not only by objective factors, of which the most important are economic, but also the socio-cultural factors, including traditions, customs and stereotypes are the most obvious.

In the same time, a historical perspective on the evolution of this issue is required. We must take into account both the short period of time that has passed since Romania’s exit from the communist dictatorship/regime and that the issue of equality between women and men has become a systematic and consistent one until the 2000s, in the process of accession to the European Union.

The economic and social crisis across Europe affect the equality between women and men. In the European context, the challenges of the financial crisis occurred with greater power on women, linked particularly to the rising unemployment, part-time employment contracts or fixed-time employment contracts, differences concerning the wages, how to achieve the reconciliation between professional life, with the family and private life, family and maternity benefits.

Despite these difficulties, compared to many other member states of the European Union, Romania has registered progress in active and balanced participation of women in society.

Thus, in 2011, the unemployment rate in Romania was ranked the 7th – among the countries with the lowest unemployment rates in the EU, namely 7.4%, with 2.3 percentage points below the EU average, while the unemployment rate for women still tends to be below the male employment rate.

Regarding the wage gap between women and men, in 2011, the Romania’s percentage was about 11.9% compared to the EU average of 17.5%.

For the Parliamentary elections in December 2012, there was a slight increase in the percentage of women compared to the one for the previous parliament (2008-2012): 11.5% of women compared to 9.8% of the total number of MPs.

Regarding the representation of women in central government decision-making body, in 2012, the percentage of women in executive positions in Romania was of 56%, which is higher than the general average in the EU (34.5% women), this actually placing our country the first in the European hierarchy.

I want to say that Romania is making further efforts towards the promotion and observance of “de facto” equal opportunities between women and men and Norway, with its experience and outstanding results in the field, is, for us, a model of good practice worthy of being followed.

basarab-bridgeTOT: Romania has become an attractive destination for migrants from outside the European Union, after becoming an EU and Schengen country after January 1st, 2007 but the legal procedures and difficulties in the process of naturalization and in Romania, meant to discourage applications, has contributed to the decrease in the number of asylum applications and may be attributed to the relatively low rate of acceptance of claims in Romania. What are the major steps that the government has taken so far to reform the process of naturalization and immigration as per EU standards and norms?

Mariana Câmpeanu: During the pre accession period, Romania had to harmonize its national legislation with the Community legislation, so that at the time of accession to the EU, at least in the respect of the legislation concerning the immigration field, in Romania all the European provisions were transposed.

Also, after the 1st of January 2007, Romania continued the implementation of the European principles and actively participated to the decision making process in the European institutions which concerned both the admission and the residence of foreigners in the member states, and the issues regarding their integration.

As regards the „difficult procedures and the difficulties in the process of naturalization” which determined a decrease in the number of the applicants for a residence right or a protection form in Romania by the citizens of member states, we consider that the information are erroneous, as the number of foreigners in Romania had not decreased, but their stock had been in a continuous increase.

In fact, the increase was constant, without major differences from one year to another, but this fact is due mainly to the economic crisis which hit Romania.

TOT: In continuation of the previous questions – Romania adopted a new policy in the field of immigration: the National Strategy on Migration. The major goal of the initiative is to provide a coherent legal framework for labour migration, asylum cases and naturalization.

How has Romania benefited from the adoption of the new immigration policy?

Mariana Câmpeanu: The adoption of the law for the approval of the National Strategy on immigration had as main purpose the establishment in a simple and direct manner of the objectives (taken into consideration) at the national level, following that Romanian authorities to establish and to coordinate their actions and concrete measures in the field of immigration.

National Strategy on immigration is elaborated for a 4 years period, the last regulation being the National Strategy on immigration for the period 2011-2014. It establishes o series of strategic and specific objectives to allow the authorities to co-operate for a better implementation of legislation in the immigration field.

National Strategy Objectives on immigration for the period 2011-2014 are:

Promoting legal migration in the benefit of all parties: Romanian society, immigrants and their countries of origin, strengthening the control concerning the legality of foreigners residence in Romania and the adequate implementation of the measures of removal and restrictive measures, the improvement of the national system of asylum for making efficient and ensuring the conformity with the national, European and international legal applicable standards, the active participation of Romania to the efforts of the international community and of the European Union member states to identify sustainable solutions for the persons in need of international protection, social integration of the foreigners with legal residence.

 

TOT: It is said that the Romanian authorities and the Romanian society are not yet prepared to effectively integrate, accept and live in harmony with their own ethnic minorities such as the Roma community or sexual minorities. What have been the major concerns of authorities or Romanian society that are keeping them at distance from integration with their other communities which are now feeling discriminated and neglected?

Mariana Câmpeanu: In our opinion, we believe that the Romanian authorities are well prepared in terms of promoting social inclusion measures for Roma people.

In social assistance sector, was adopted in December 2011 a new social assistance law that provides the following core values and principles of the national social security system: social solidarity, universality, respect for human dignity, participation of beneficiaries respecting self -determination and the right to activism. Measures under social assistance, which means that social assistance benefits and social services are provided for all categories in vulnerable situations without discrimination. In order to combat poverty, the right to social assistance is guaranteed for all Romanian citizens and citizens of other countries and stateless persons and any other person who has granted a form of protection and resides in Romania, without any discrimination.

Romania continues its efforts to implement the measures to reduce poverty and social exclusion.

In December 2011, the Romanian Government adopted the National Strategy for inclusion of the Romanian citizens belonging to the Roma minority for 2012-2020, informally named as Roma Strategy. Strategy for the Roma minority has 6 policy areas: education, employment, health, housing and small infrastructure, culture, social infrastructure (child protection, justice and public order, administration and community development).

Central and local authorities, civil society and international organizations have launched a series of initiatives to support the implementation of the Strategy for Roma in all policy areas.

In this respect, the social inclusion policy of the Romanian Government is based on a proactive approach which aims the general increase in the standard of living of the population and the labor income stimulation by facilitating employment and promoting inclusive policies in addressing the vulnerable groups .

The policy for social inclusion of the Roma minority requires a planned process and joint action, followed by the adoption of strategies, programs and specific projects, accompanied by measures to combat discrimination, combating poverty and promoting equality.

As a result, the Romanian Government considered the social inclusion of Roma as an issue that should be reflected in all activities on the agenda of each central and local public institutions. The governmental institutions through their sectoral policies and the civil society plays a key role in the social development process of Romanian citizens belonging to the Roma minority and may influence by the planning of their activities the social change in general and, in particular, to improve the situation of Roma.

Although the primary responsibility for social and economic inclusion of Romanian citizens belonging to the Roma minority lies to the public authorities, their inclusion is a dual process that involves a change in the mentality of the majority, but also the mentality of members of the Roma community, a challenge that requires firm action carried out in an active dialogue with the Roma minority, both at national and at EU level.

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TOT: The Roma community is being discriminated throughout Europe even in the member states of the EU, where they are not being treated equally with other Western European communities and are being forced to leave, countries like France, Germany, the UK and even Norway.

a.) In your opinion, is the EU still struggling to accept the people from its post-communist member countries like Romania?

b.) How is the discrimination on racial grounds affecting the unity and integrity of the EU?

Mariana Câmpeanu: Regarding discrimination against Roma in Romania, the conclusions of the survey “Situation of Roma in 11 EU Member States” elaborated and produced in 2012 by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and UNDP, show that in Romania the levels of discrimination due to ethnic origin are relatively low compared to other EU Member States, taking into account that the proportions vary from more than 25% in Romania to approximately 60% in the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy and Poland. The pilot survey was made in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.

Within the Romanian Strategy for Roma, one of the proposed measures for the employment field refers to “promoting programs designed to raise employers’ awareness on the phenomenon of workplace discrimination, gender equality, psychological harassment, and social dialogue”. As I mentioned earlier, the primary responsibility for social and economic inclusion of Roma minority returns public authorities and civil society, both at national and EU level.

According to the Commission Communication of 2011 “an EU Framework for National Roma Inclusion Strategies up to 2020″, the inclusion of citizens belonging to the Roma minority is one of the most pressing social problems in Europe.

We believe that there is still much to be done in many EU countries in terms of accepting nationals from post-communist Member States, especially those of Roma minority, and we appreciate that racial discrimination can seriously harm the unity and integrity of the EU.

TOT: 2004 was the year of Romania’s NATO accession and when the Romanian authorities were forced by the “top-down-policy” to take further legislative steps to monitor and control the flow of illegal immigration in the country and into the EU on its borders. How far have the authorities in Romania been successful in tackling this problem and in what respect?

Mariana Câmpeanu: In order to update the legal framework for the implementation of EU legislation, a new law on immigration was adopted in 2011, which promotes new regulations on foreigners’ regime in Romania. This has substantially improved the legal framework regarding foreigners and has offered the opportunity to manage the immigration phenomenon on Romania’s territory in a more efficient way, and for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Thus, the Romanian legal framework on foreigners in Romania covers positive amendments including: regulations related to the Schengen Area, access to employment and participation in the labour market for highly skilled migrant workers, foreigners’ right to work who have a tolerated status, standardize the legislation on reuniting the family, the possibility to change visa’s purpose while having the temporary residence in Romania; procedures allowing foreigners access to basic services, encourage integration of foreigners by simplifying the access to education/training, training and access to labour market, protection and support for foreigners belonging to vulnerable groups or who are victims of human trafficking.

TOT: Romania is affected by the enormous rate of brain drain which has caused the country a loss of its precious skilled talent and expertise in almost every industry and sector of economics, even after acceding to the EU bloc, the country suffers largely from the same issue of labour outflows.

a.) Why has there been so much talent outflow from Romania, when the country boasts a progressive economy and better job prospects?

b.) What steps is the government planning to take in order to solve the crisis?

Mariana Câmpeanu: The mobility and labour migration represent a constant topic of discussion and analysis both for state institutions, and civil society. The extent and impact of this phenomenon have a major influence on Romanian economy, labour market and Romanian society, as a whole.

Freedom of movement and the right to work within the EU is a basic right of European citizens, established by the founding Treaties of the European Union. In the course of time and reported to the evolutions in EU economies, beyond being a right held by legal instruments, labour mobility became a necessity at European level in order to reduce the negative effects of unfavourable demographic evolution in Europe and those of world economy globalization.

The main causes of highly qualified Romanians mobility are the following: increasing the shortage of highly qualified specialists found by EU Member States/EEA/USA/Canada which started recruitment campaigns for highly skilled labour force from abroad, the financial benefits in destination countries compared to those in Romania, facilitating access to specialized internships in other countries which enables Romanian specialists to apply, obtain and follow specialized courses and training in Western countries on limited duration basis; desire to have a professional achievement – the conditions to practice is limited in Romania compared to what major employers in Europe/U.S./Canada can provide; desire to accompany a family member who is already abroad.

Highly qualified staff mobility effects can be both positive and negative. Among the positive effects that people we mention that highly qualified persons, the specialists who have gone abroad to practice, when they returned to Romania they have used the experience gained from employers from abroad, and that specializations or courses taken abroad have been a decisive factor career’s development in Romania.

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TOT: There is a graver problem of Romania, that it is losing its population faster than others and there has been a continuous decline over the years that has created a severe burden on pension funds and other social benefit programs of the government.

a.) What has government done to cure the demographics of the country?

b.) Is it possible to recover the loss of native population in the near future? If yes, then how?

c.) What kind of reforms has the government introduced or planned to take care of its Elderly class of population?

Mariana Câmpeanu: Aging population, combined with low birth rates, is a major challenge from the economic, budgetary and social perspective, for many countries, as is the case of Romania.

For us it is clear that demographic trends will significantly transform the Romanian society. The dynamics of demographic phenomena in recent years is the result of specific developments that the population of Romania has experienced since 1989, which reflects significantly on the current situation of the Romanian society.

The population of Romania registers an ongoing and slow downwards process since the early ’90s, so that the latest provisional data on the population census of 2011 shows that Romania’s population totals approximately 19.43 million (19,043,767 , data from 24 august 2012) as compared to 21.7 million people in 2002. Romania’s population pyramid shows a slow but continuous aging process. In these circumstances, there is an increased “pressure” of the elderly population upon the adult population – potentially active, and implicitly upon important systems in society (health, welfare, social security), with implications for the economic and social policy.

Following these adverse developments that took place over a “historic” period of time in terms of duration, a return or recovery is still possible, but it will produce effects also over a historical period of time.

Aging raises further challenges not only in terms of providing pensions and health care, the influence of this phenomenon on the labor market being also of crucial importance

In Romania, the trend of population aging has led us to take the necessary measures regarding the employment policies, as well as the pension reform.

From the employment policies’ perspective, older workers represent a target group in implementing measures to boost employment, as regulated by the Law on unemployment insurance system and employment stimulation, funded from the unemployment insurance budget. The facility for elderly reinsertion on the labor market applies through two measures to stimulate employment, as follows:

• financial support for employers to employ on a permanent basis unemployed people aged over 45 years, i.e. with the exemption for a period of 12 months to pay their contributions to the unemployment insurance budget, related to persons falling in this category, and the monthly allocation, during this period, for each employee in this category, of an amount equal to the reference social indicator in force, with the obligation to maintain the labor relations for at least 2 years;

• financial support for employers who employ, in the terms set by law, unemployed people who within 3 years from the date of employment qualify for partial early retirement or for old age pension, by proving monthly, during the employment period, until the conditions in question are fulfilled, an amount equal to the reference social indicator in force.

With regard to pension reform objectives, they generally aimed at:

• improving the financial sustainability of the pension system;

• reducing early retirement;

• implementing more stringent criteria for granting disability pensions;

• increasing the standard retirement age for women and equalizing the standard retirement age for men and women.

We believe that the amplitude of the envisaged changes and particularly of the challenges that the demographic decline and the aging bring with them, require an increased preoccupation for participation in lifelong learning.

Moreover, it is necessary to promote a comprehensive approach to human resources policies, including adaptation of work organization, facilitating flexible working hours, ensuring good management of occupational health and creating healthy workplaces throughout the entire lifecycle for older workers.

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TOT: Unemployment in Romania is among the lowest in the EU, standing at nearly 6.9%, which means the job market is healthy and the country can provide more jobs to its labour; the government has remained successful in maintaining the low levels, but times ahead are challenging and the economic situation in the EU is worsening, so how does Romania see these regional and global crises that pose greater challenges for the country and what measures is your ministry, under your leadership, planning to take in order to help Romania prepare to handle the further escalation of the European crisis?

Mariana Câmpeanu: Currently, overcoming the economic crisis is a major challenge for all countries around the world. In the given situation, marked by very uncertain prospects, the ability to cope with challenges will depend crucially on correlating the actions taken to support the recovery with longer-term structural reforms.

We strongly believe, however, that on our path to recovery, we must, first, to make sure that we do everything possible to minimize the negative impact of austerity measures and to protect the most vulnerable.

Thus, in the framework of ensuring economic, social and territorial cohesion, from a sustainable perspective, Romania aims to promote economic growth based on employment. To achieve this goal, we focus on improving the functioning of labour market, facilitating transitions from unemployment or inactivity to employment, improving professional skills of the labour force, increasing quality of the employment concerning the people from rural areas, as well as young people and women.

An essential course of action, within the efforts at national level, refers to facilitating the transition from unemployment or inactivity to employment. To achieve this, in the next period, the package of measures aiming to boost employment focuses on helping persons seeking employment by strengthening individual employment capacity (information programs and personalized career counselling, professional training and stimulation of individual business initiative), and strengthening the legal framework on the unemployment insurance system and employment stimulation.

A common challenge for both Romania and several Member States of the European Union is the high level of youth unemployment. Thus, the Romanian Government approved the “National Plan to boost youth employment 2013″ programmatic document which focuses on the implementation of programs such as “Youth Guarantee”, oriented on the following directions:

• advice and career guidance for young people, especially those with lower level of qualifications, by implementing personalized programs;

• recognition of the skills acquired by young people in informal or non-formal system;

• apprenticeship training at the workplace and gaining a first work experience through volunteering;

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