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Sweden eyes deal with Romania on welfare

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Sweden eyes deal with Romania on welfare
Many people from Romania come to Sweden in search of a better life. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT
12:32 CEST+02:00
Sweden is close to reaching a deal with Romania to help the struggling country solve some of its most pressing social issues. The focus will be on children's rights, the government's special co-ordinator Martin Valfridsson told the Local on Thursday.

A first draft of a so-called co-operation agreement to deal with issues surrounding some of Romania's most vulnerable groups is currently being prepared by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, with the hope of the two governments penning a formal deal this summer.

“It is not set in stone yet, but both countries have expressed an interest to initiate co-operation on social issues, particularly on children's rights and education. Romania is very interested in how Sweden organizes its welfare system,” Valfridsson told The Local on Thursday.

Romania's minister for social affairs met with her Swedish counterparts Åsa Regnér and Annika Strandhäll in January to discuss potential co-operation between the two countries.

And Regnér's State Secretary Pernilla Baralt and Valfridsson, who is Sweden's national co-ordinator for the work with vulnerable people in Europe, have just returned from a trip to Bucharest to follow up on the talks.

"It feels like we can talk about both complicated and tough issues. The goal now is to create a more long term and wider framework for our future discussions. The plan is to be able to sign the agreement this summer," Baralt told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on Thursday.

The potential agreement would enable Sweden and Romania to exchange knowledge and views on social issues. Sweden would also share information in order to help Romania apply for EU structural funds.

“Romania is a rather poor country, consisting of many smaller municipalities with far fewer resources than in Sweden. There is a lot of improvement potential in social issues, to put it diplomatically, but there is also an ambition to get better at dealing with them,” Valfridsson explained.

Thousands of beggars have arrived in Sweden over the past few years, with ninety percent of them travelling from Romania, according to figures released by Stockholm's Social Administration Board in April 2014.

Most of them are members of the Roma community – one of the EU's largest minority groups – and arrive as EU tourists fleeing poverty under the right to Freedom of Movement. Many end up on the street. In February dozens of Roma beggars were evicted from a city square in Stockholm amid rising concern about the growing number of beggars in the Swedish capital.

And Valfridsson said the new co-operation deal could be a “piece of the puzzle” in helping to solve their plight.

“In the long run this could be one of the effects. If you've got a good life in your own country you are less likely to travel to another. It's one piece of the puzzle," he said.

READ MORE: Meet northern Sweden's frozen Roma beggars

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