The existence of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism throughout Europe presents a major challenge for all those believe in equality, social justice and democracy. In response to this the victims of racism and anti-racist organisations have been campaigning and lobbying for constructive responses at local, regional, national and European levels. Various studies have shown that racism is on the increase, that it takes on a variety of forms, targets different vulnerable groups, and manifests itself in covert and subtle ways as well as in overt and violent ways.
The European Parliament has adopted a range of resolutions in response to the situation. Likewise the Council of the European Communities and the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States, meeting within the Council have also adopted resolutions recommending various actions to counter racism. In 1995 the European Commission issued a Communication and a proposal to designate 1997 as European Year Against Racism. Later that year the Council decided that the European Year Against Racism would go ahead. The objectives of the Year were:
to highlight the threat posed by racism to economic and social cohesion within the EU;
to encourage reflection and discussion on the measures required in order to combat racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Europe;
to promote the exchange of experience on good practice and effective strategies;
to disseminate information;
to highlight the benefits of integration policies;
to learn from those who suffer from racism and to promote their participation in society.
The Irish National Committee for the European Year Against Racism fully supported these objectives and undertook a range of actions to implement them. One action which the Committee undertook, with the support of the European Commission, was to organise a transnational working seminar, in Leuven, Belgium, on the specific form of racism experienced by Roma/Gypsies/Travellers in the European Union. The purpose of this seminar was to raise awareness and to develop proposals and actions for EU responses to this form of racism. Prior to the seminar, participants were requested to complete a questionnaire on the situation of Roma/Gypsies/Travellers in their respective countries. These provided some information that was incorporated into a draft paper, which was intended to stimulate further discussion and debate. On the basis of this discussion which took place during the Leuven seminar this final paper has been produced for dissemination. A full report of the seminar proceedings is also available.
Chairperson, Irish National Committee for the European Year Against Racism