Roma integration far away despite EU funding

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Roma integration far away despite EU funding
Romania - “Walled In” Baia Mare – Carmen, a ten years old Roma girl, poses for the camera as the wall goes up. I wanted to convey the idea of walling in the future of Roma with such acts of segregation and discrimination. Besides posing, Carmen has another more important merit in creating this image. When she could no longer see me from behind the wall she raised her hands by herself. Tears burst into my eyes when I took that picture...”

Media has recently been reporting on an increase in hate crime and violence against Roma in EU member states and candidate countries. In Sweden, known for its tolerance to immigrants, Roma camps have been attacked and set on fire. In Germany, known for outlawing hate crime, Anti-Gypsyism gets away unpunished. In other countries walls have been built around Roma neighborhoods as if ghettos are being revived in modern Europe.

Against this worrying background, the question can be asked if enough is being done by EU and national governments to eradicate discrimination, put an end to segregation and integrate the Roma minority group in society as equal citizens with the majority population. This would require measures in the labor market, housing, education, and the health system, the main components of any multi-thronged strategy for Roma integration.

Add to this the need for empowerment of Roma on all levels, from local authorities in the EU member states to the European Parliament. Currently there are only three MEPs of Roma origin.

Roma have no historical homeland but live in nearly all countries of Europe. Reliable figures on their numbers are missing. Official census figures, if they do exist, underestimate their numbers. According to a statistical document prepared by the Council of Europe in 2010, the total number in Europe could be estimated to 11.3 million, based on the average of maximum and minimum estimates. This implies 7 – 10 % of the population in Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia.

More than half of the Roma population is living in EU. A lot of hope was raised in 2004 when the EU was enlarged with 10 new member states, the majority of them in central and Eastern Europe with substantial Roma minorities. At the time of accession Roma was still lagging behind and the feeling then was that they had been left behind. Before accession only ca 95 million € incl. national co-financing had been allocated to programmes which were targeted to the Roma population.

The aid drew at least the attention to the Roma minority problem, led to some improvements and was supposed to serve as a basis for future projects to be financed by the structural funds. The most important result of the enlargement process was that new member states adopted anti-discrimination legislation. It was thought that the legislation would go long way in changing attitudes of both majority and minority populations and in supporting the fight against discrimination.

Anti-discrimination legislation however needs to be enforced in practice. This might require the intervention of the European Commission against those member states and candidate countries that blatantly violate the legislation and are building physical and non-physical barriers against integration. For EU funding to be effective it must reach the Roma communities, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged group in society. This requires effective programming and monitoring.

The process which EU started in 2004 was supposed to continue with attitude changes, political commitments and targeted resources to Roma integration in the countries concerned – otherwise it would take generations if ever to abolish the divide and lack of equality between the Roma minorities and the majority populations.  What has happened since 2004 and how is the situation today?

No earmarking of funding

From the very start EU was reluctant to earmarking financial assistance to Roma projects as it was thought that this might create new inequalities in society or antagonize disadvantaged groups in the majority population. To get around this problem, EU adopted in 2009 Common Basic Principles on Roma inclusion. The most cited principle is the “explicit but not exclusive targeting principle”. EU funding should promote Roma integration without excluding non-Roma participants in projects.

This was followed in 2011 by the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020. The Framework calls on member states and candidate countries to prepare or revise National Roma Integration Strategies that would address the challenges of Roma inclusion in the four priority areas of education, employment, housing and health. The European Commission has assessed the strategies in two communications published in 2012 and 2013.

The EU framework for Roma integration is matched by substantial EU funding - up to €26.5 billion in the programming period 2007 – 2013 according to the communications - to support member states’ efforts in the field of social inclusion, incl. Roma integration. For the European Social Fund (ESF), €9.6 billion were allocated for measures targeting socio-economic inclusion. In the case of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), more than € 16.8 billion were planned for social infrastructure.

This sounds all good and well but we need to know to what extent these amounts have reached and benefitted Roma communities. How many of the participants in EU funded projects were Roma? Input figures like these should be available in the monitoring and evaluation of the projects. More importantly, which are the results? Did the projects lead to increased integration and a reduction in the social gap between Roma and non-Roma populations? 

Unfortunately, we don’t have much factual figures which could shed light on these questions. DG Employment and Social Inclusion – an important member of the Commission’s task force for Roma – didn’t provide any figures when asked for this article. According to ERGO, a network in Brussels of NGOs for Roma integration, the Commission has presented figures in the past “which were rough estimates which only triggered more questions”.

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has started an audit of the use of EU funding to Roma projects in 2007 – 2013. Hopefully it will allow us to draw general conclusions. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published in 2013 a report on the use of the European Social Fund in employment and social inclusion projects in Slovakia during the previous programming period. The UNDP report is limited to Slovakia but reads as a performance audit report by ECA.

The findings show a mismatch of funding under the two priorities of the operational programme concerned because of non-operational selection criteria and lack of strict monitoring. There are no reliable figures on the actual number of Roma participants in the projects. The territorial allocation didn’t correspond to the real needs on the ground. As Roma are underemployed, they hardly benefitted from the priority which targeted people already in the work force.

Decade of Roma inclusion failed

EU isn’t the only organization promoting Roma integration. During the past 10 years, 2005 – 2015, an international initiative, Decade of Roma Inclusion, has been implemented with the same purpose and focus on priority areas as the EU Framework for Roma integration. In addition it commits governments to take into account other core issues such as poverty and discrimination. The Decade initiative however does not provide financial support for individual Roma inclusion projects.

While certain Decade achievements can be recorded, the overall picture is somber. According to a policy options paper, “To be or not to be: Roma decade after 2015”, the Decade failed to make an impact on the daily lives of the majority of Roma for a number of reasons, such as structural discrimination, lack of an enforcement mechanism and inadequate monitoring.

According to ERGO, the European Commission didn’t address the root causes of inadequate funding. There is a false dichotomy between anti-discrimination and social inclusion measures. Access to public services is heavily distorted by prejudices against Roma and lacking political will to address public opinion about this. In daily people-to-people interaction on the ground Roma are often perceived as non-citizens.

The Commission itself admits that the potential use of EU funds in the 2007 – 2013 programming period was not fully exploited to support Roma integration, among others because of difficulties in finding national co-financing and overly complex administrative structures. The situation on the ground has hardly improved according to the statistical indicators presented by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

There remain wide gaps in all priority areas between Roma and non-Roma. Especially worrying is the persistence of segregation of Roma children in special schools or classes. In its report on education from October 2014, FRA analyzed the figures according to type of neighborhood, whether mixed or dominated by Roma or non-Roma inhabitants. It was striking that relatively high percentages of segregation was recorded in mix neighborhoods in several countries.

Hopes for new programming period

For the new programming period starting now (2014 – 2020), all actors have surely learned some lessons of the shortcomings during the previous period. It should be easier to make use of the EU funds, among others by combining them to fund projects in the four key policy areas. A certain percentage of the funds has also been earmarked for investing in people, incl. combatting poverty and social exclusion.

In a recent toolkit on programming of the structural funds, “Making the best of the EU funds for Roma”, the Commission introduced the concept of “equality mainstreaming”. It’s described as a complex policy model, aiming at ensuring of social inclusion, and may combine mainstream and targeted measures. We would need strict monitoring to ensure that Roma will be ensured their fair share of resources.

If all this will translate into more effective funding for Roma integration and a reduction in the divide between Roma and non-Roma remains to be seen. We cannot afford loosing another programming period. The challenges are huge for the European Commission, national governments, Roma communities and NGOs.

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