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    Roma integration still far away in EU

    Protest in May 2019 outside the Palace of Justice in Brussels against police seizure of caravans, © ERGO

    The European Commission adopted on Friday its annual report on the implementation of national Roma integration strategies. The report summarises the most important trends in education, employment, health, and housing, as well as fighting discrimination and anti-gypsyism.

    EU and all Member States have a joint responsibility to improve the living conditions and integration of the Roma. In 2011, the Commission introduced national strategies for Roma integration and started to issue annual reports, using information from every country. The 2019 report is the last one under the EU financial framework up to 2020.

    Education is the area where Member States are doing the most work to promote Roma inclusion. EU Member States have put in place a number of measures in this field, including to limit early school-leaving of Roma children.

    “Now, 90% of Roma children attend primary and lower secondary school. This is an encouraging step towards promoting integration of the Roma in society. Still, a lot remains to be done to help Roma integrate fully in society, in particular on access to public utilities, decent housing, employment and healthcare,“ said Vera Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality (6 September).

    According to the first results of a Eurobarometer on discrimination that will be published in the coming weeks, 61% of the respondents feel that discrimination against Roma is widespread in their country, and only 19% of the respondents think their country’s efforts to integrate its Roma population are effective.

    While early drop-out rates of Roma pupils have been reduced, the situation in education is still worring, especially regarding segregation in the education systems, with 13 % of Roma pupils attending schools or classes where all pupils are Roma and 33 % where most pupils are Roma.

    Furthermore, figures in the report on highest achieved edcuation level among 16+ show that 18 % have achieved upper secondary, vocational or post-secondary education, 38 % have achieved lower secondary, 29 % primary and 14 % have not completeted primary.

    Education is an area where most measures are targeted for Roma in contrast to the other areas where support include or rely mainly on mainstream measures. It is therefore also the area with a relatively greater number of promising approaches and policy lessons common to several countries.

    EU is reluctant to earmarking financial assistance to Roma projects as it is thought that this might create more segregation or antagonize disadvantaged groups in the majority population. To get around this problem, EU adopted in 2009 the “explicit but not exclusive targeting principle”, aiming at striking a balance between targeting the Roma without creating segregation.

    A Commission press officer told The Brussels Times that one of the conditions to access funding from the European Social Fund is that Member States earmark 20% to measures fostering social inclusion and fighting poverty. They can allocate the funding to the integration of marginalised communities such as Roma. How much actually benefits Roma is difficult to follow-up.

    For the next long-term EU budget, the Commission proposed last year to add a specific objective for the new European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), specifically dedicated to advance social inclusion of marginalised groups. The European Regional Development Fund will continue to support infrastructure in childcare, healthcare, social care, education and housing.

    Before 2004, when central and eastern European countries with large Roma minorities joined the EU, there was no overriding objective to abolish or reduce the huge gaps between Roma and the majority populations. This has changed since then.

    According to the report, Western Balkans countries have geared up their ambitions beyond expectations and mandate and endorsed the same Roma inclusion objectives and working methods as Member States. “Solid and sustainable improvements on Roma integration are necessary to progress towards the EU.”

    Asked by The Brussels Times to comment on the Commission´s report, Gabriela Hrabanova, director of the European Roma Grassroots Organisations (ERGO) Network replied that “both the Commission and the EU Member States need to take their commitment forward when developing future Roma inclusion plans to be implemented from 2020 onward.”

    ERGO is a network of NGOs across Europe that promotes integration of Roma and combats anti-gypsyism. “The future measures must involve Roma in all stages of the policy cycle to ensure that they reflect realities on the ground more than they have so far,” Hrabonova said.

    “Since the start of the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies in 2011, Member States have clearly not done enough; some have not developed any of the promised targeted measures. There is a growing employment gap between Roma and non-Roma that is mainly a consequence of segregation, low-quality education and racism in recruitment.”

    She added that, “infringement procedures of the European Commission against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia concerning segregation in education have not brought any results. Above all, structural anti-gypsyism has not been addressed in most Member States. A lot of commitment and action from decision-makers are needed to achieve more equality for Roma in the coming years.”

    Reliable figures on the numbers of Roma are missing. Official census figures, if they do exist, underestimate their numbers. In 2010, the Council of Europe estimated the total number of Roma in Europe to 11.3 million, based on the average of maximum and minimum estimates. This implies that 7 – 10 % of the population in Bulgaria, Hungary, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia are Roma.

    M. Apelblat
    The Brussels Times