EU support to Roma: More of the same policy or a break with the past?
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EU support to Roma: More of the same policy or a break with the past?

The European Commission presented last week a 10-year plan to support Roma inclusion and equality in the EU.

The Roma are Europe’s largest ethnic minority. Out of an estimated 10-12 million Roma in Europe, some 6 million live in the EU, subjected to discrimination and lagging behind the majority populations in every sphere of society.

The new plan or strategic framework builds on lessons learned from previous policies to integrate Roma in society and was described as a first direct contribution to the EU anti-racism action plan which was announced in September. It has the same holistic approach as in the past but has been widened to include equality, inclusion, and participation besides education, employment, health and housing.

While the responsibility for implementing the plan lies on the member states, this time the Commission will strengthen its monitoring. For each area, the Commission has put forward new targets and recommendations for member states on how to achieve them, both of which will serve as tools to monitor progress.

At the Commission press briefing on 7 October, the Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourová, regretted that the EU had not achieved the objectives set in the past for the integration of Roma. “Simply put, over the last ten years we have not done enough to support the Roma population in the EU. This is inexcusable. Many continue to face discrimination and racism.”

She pointed out that anti-gypsyism is the one main reason for the failures in the past. It is a special form of racism which lingers on because it has not the stigma which is attached to other forms and therefore it must be targeted directly, she said.

“For the EU to become a true Union of Equality we need to ensure that millions of Roma are treated equally, socially included and able to participle in social and political life without exception,” added the Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli.

A year ago, when she was quizzed at a hearing in the European Parliament on her vision of Equality, she referred briefly to the need to integrate Roma in society.  This time she elaborated on her vision and underlined that there will be targets and indicators in every piece of EU legislation and policy to advance the inclusion and equality of Roma.

“With the targets that we have laid out in the Strategic Framework today, we expect to make real progress by 2030 towards a Europe in which Roma are celebrated as part of our Union’s diversity.” Every EU citizen has the right to reach his or her full potential, she said.

The previous policy was based on national strategies for Roma. Asked by The Brussels Times about the main difference between those plans and the new strategic framework, Vice-President Jourová explained that the framework is much more targeted and will be less top-down, with more Roma participation. “We cannot help the Roma without the Roma.”

Challenges

Another issue in the past was the lack of direct earmarking of funds to Roma. Normally, funds were allocated for the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged population groups and were supposed to reach also the Roma. According to Zeljko Jovanovic, director of the Open Society Roma Initiatives Office, this did not happen:

“In the last 6 years, more than €1.5 billion were made available for governments to use for vulnerable groups like Roma, only more than 440 million were actually used across the EU and nobody knows how much of these funds benefited the Roma,” he commented.

The principle of non-earmarking of funds will apparently remain but the Commission assured at the press briefing that the targeting of funding will be improved. Roma representatives and civil society in general will have a stronger voice in the monitoring committees in the member states that are deciding on the allocation of the funds.

In the area of education, segregation of Roma pupils in separate schools or classes still exist despite infringement procedures that have been dragging on since 2015. The new framework only aims at cutting the proportion of Roma children who attend segregated primary schools by at least half in member states with a significant Roma population.

Is segregated education legal in the EU? “We condemn segregation wherever alternatives are possible,” Jouravá said and referred to the right of parents to choose school for their children according to national laws. Dalli added that the easy part is to draft a law, the challenge is to change stereotypes and attitudes. What is required is to implement the anti-racism legislation already in place.

To monitor progress with the new strategic framework, statistical data will have to be broken down by ethnic group. In the past, this has been forbidden in some member states. However, according to Vice-President Jourová, such data can be collected for research purposes while complying with data protection rules.

The Commission is now calling on the member states to submit national strategies by September 2021 and report on their implementation every two years. The Commission will monitor progress towards the 2030 targets, with input from the European Fundamental Rights Agency and from civil society. There will also be an in-depth mid-term evaluation of the new 10-year plan in ts entirety.

Jovanovic, the director of the Roma Initiatives Office, welcomed the new strategic framework as “an important signal of the continued commitment of the EU towards the improvement of the situation of Roma”. But he is sceptical because the governance structure is basically the same: “The national governments are expected to implement and the Commission monitors. It didn’t work in the past.”

M.Apelblat
The Brussels Times