EU auditors slam shortcomings in Commission support to Roma integration
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EU auditors slam shortcomings in Commission support to Roma integration

photo credit: European Court of Auditors
photo credit: European Court of Auditors
EU policy initiatives and financial support came too late to have an impact on Roma integration during the previous programming period 2007 – 2013. Unfortunately the audit recommendations may also come too late for the current period 2014 – 2020.

The European Court of Auditors (ECA), the EU watchdog, issued recently (28 June) a special audit report on EU-funded projects to promote Roma integration in the Member States . The audit, the first of its kind by ECA, started formally in October 2014 and was completed in June 2016 with the replies from European Commission.

“As things stand, we don’t really know how well Roma are being integrated because we don’t have robust data; we don’t even know how many Roma there are. Of course, ethnicity is a sensitive issue; but unless this problem is resolved, policy-making will soon be hampered all the way to 2020,” said Mr Henri Grethen, the ECA member responsible for the report.

In fact, the report states that no indicative figures are available for how much of a total EU funding of 277 billion euro in 2007-2013 was spent on Roma integration. For the current period, 2014-2020, 1.5 billion euro out of total budget of 283 billion euro has been earmarked for the socio-economic integration of “marginalized communities”, such as Roma.

“Unless swift action is taken, the situation will remain unchanged for the current period.”

The auditors examined 19 projects, all completed by 2013, in Bulgaria, Spain, Hungary and Romania – all member states with a significant Roma minority population. There are also significant Roma minorities in candidate countries such as Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey.

During the pre-accession period before 2004, minority protection was the most weakly defined membership criterion and relatively small amounts were allocated to Roma integration projects. A lot of hope was therefore raised in 2004 when EU was enlarged with 10 new member states, the majority of them in central and Eastern Europe with substantial Roma minorities.

The process which EU started in 2004 was supposed to result in attitude changes, political commitments and targeted resources from the European Structural Funds to Roma integration in the countries concerned – otherwise it would take generations if ever to abolish the social gap between the Roma minorities and the majority populations. What happened?

While the auditors acknowledge that EU has made progress in developing its policy for Roma integration, they conclude that there are still obstacles and dilemmas which prevent funding from having the greatest possible impact.

The auditors found that the Commission had made significant progress in setting out EU policy initiatives promoting Roma integration and that all Member States had developed a National Roma Integration Strategy by 2012. But this came too late to have an impact on programmes and projects for 2007-2013, and a number of shortcomings remained.

First, the strategies did not indicate what level of funding was needed or the amount of money available; second, anti-discrimination, in particular anti-gypsyism, was not given enough attention; third, the need for active participation by representatives of the Roma was not always taken into account.

Finally, the National Roma Contact Points set up to coordinate the development and implementation of the national strategies had sometimes been undermined by a mismatch of resources and responsibilities.

For 2014 to 2020, the auditors noted a number of improvements: Roma inclusion is explicitly referred to in the European Structural and Investment Funds Regulation, and a specific funding priority has been introduced to address it. Since 2013 the Commission has issued country-specific recommendations related to Roma integration.

To some extent the ECA report is pushing open doors. According to a report by the international initiative Decade of Roma Inclusion, the Decade (2005 – 2015) 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.

The Commission itself has admitted that the potential use of EU 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.

A Commission evaluation last year of EU financial assistance to Roma communities found that only about 1.5 % of total EU assistance was given in support of integration of Roma communities in Western Balkans and Turkey. Shortcomings in programming and implementation of projects were found in most projects, similar to those in the ECA audit.

Most ECA recommendations are targeted to the member states, such as revising the National Roma Integration Strategies and improving the implementation of the EU-funded operational programmes. The Commission is among others recommended to encourage member states to collect statistical data on ethnicity within the next two years to enable meaningful monitoring.

The Commission’s immediate reply to the report seems not overtly enthusiastic. Although it accepts some recommendations, mainly because it already is taking measures in their direction, it seems not ready to use its leverage with regard to the recommendations addressed to the member states.

On the crucial recommendation on statistics, the Commission “underlines that the collection of ethnic data is unlawful in some Member States and that it is a national competence.”

The Brussels based European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network, while welcoming the audit recommendations, comments that the report is still not addressing the root cause of the exclusion of Roma, namely that of anti-gypsyism.

A well-written performance audit report, drawing on multiple data sources (incl. external experts and focus groups), is expected to make a difference. The Brussels Times followed-up the audit by asking the audit team about the possible impact of the report.

Q: To what extent will the recommendations affect the current programming period (2014 – 2020) – will new operational programmes (OP) be approved and national Roma integration strategies (NRIS) redrafted that can take the audit recommendations into account or will the main impact occur in next period?

A: The impact of the report can be at the time of modifying the OPs, negotiating for the next programming period and at the time of updating the NRISs.  Generally, recommendations include an indicative timeline for their implementation.

Q: According to the report, “the word Roma was not even mentioned in the regulations” for the 2007 – 2013 period and it was almost impossible to quantify the total funding for Roma integration. Policy changes happened first towards the end of the period. Was this period a lost opportunity to support Roma integration?

A: We wouldn’t say it was a “lost period”, as we have examples of projects that contributed to Roma integration and Roma integration was referred to in different OPs. But it was difficult to have an overall picture of the contribution of the structural funds to the integration of Roma.

The main change is that programming has become more focused.  With investment priority 9.2, we have a better knowledge of how much funding there is. Member states also need to devote funds to Roma integration due to the country-specific recommendations.

But as the report states, there was “a missed opportunity” in the current period to support anti‑discrimination measures that could be integrated with measures under the investment priority, since the lack of anti‑discrimination measures is considered as one of the main reasons why Roma inclusion measures can fail.

Q: The total amount for Roma integration under investment priority 9.2 during the current period 2014 – 2020 is about 1.5 billion €, which is only an insignificant percentage of the total allocation to the member states. Did ECA assess what a more reasonable budget would have been?

A: The amount of 1.5 billion euro is the specific funding devoted to marginalized communities, such as the Roma. This does not mean that this is the only funding for the Roma. Mainstream funding can also reach the Roma, but one cannot tell in what proportion. Specific indicators would be needed to assess how much of that mainstream funding is devoted to the Roma.

Q: The lack of ethnicity data (besides via self-declaration on project level) is considered a major problem in the monitoring and evaluation of the projects. This resulted in a key recommendation to create a common data collection framework for all member states, incl. ethnicity data, but the Commission didn’t accept the recommendation. Is this the last word on this issue?

A: We have not legal means to oblige the Commission (or any other institution) to implement our recommendations. However, the European Parliament may refer explicitly to this recommendation in the context of the discharge procedure.

Q: Another important observation and subsequent recommendation in the audit report is that EU funds haven’t been allocated according to indicators with specific relevance to the Roma population. Is it possible to redistribute funds during the remaining period?

A: At this stage, it’s possible to reallocate funds within a member state, but not among them. This recommendation requires changes in the legislation and refers to the next programming period beginning in 2020 (The Commission has accepted the recommendation).

Q: It seems that all member states complied with the ex-ante conditionality for co-financing – to have a national Roma inclusion strategy in place. Is this really enough considering the shortcomings in the strategies?

A: The requirement isn’t just to have a strategy, no matter its content. There are a number of criteria that must be fulfilled, such as national goals for bridging the gap between Roma and the general population, identification of disadvantaged micro-regions or segregated neighbourhoods, strong monitoring methods and a review mechanism, and close cooperation and dialogue with the Roma civil society and regional and local authorities.

Q: The audit analyses the 10 Common Basic Principles on Roma inclusion, adopted by EU in 2009. The most cited principle is the “explicit but not exclusive targeting”. EU funding should promote Roma integration without excluding non-Roma participants in projects. In many projects audited the principle wasn’t applied. Should the principle be sharpened or reformulated? What is an acceptable Roma participation in projects intended for Roma integration – that a majority should be of Roma origin?

A: The principle is clear and there is no need to have it sharpened or reformulated. The key thing is to apply it. As to an acceptable figure, we cannot commit to a number; it depends on the type of project and the proportion of the marginalized Roma population in a given area.

Q: As in other reports, the auditee is the Commission as a whole but in fact at least three Directorates-General were involved (DG Employment, DG Regional Policy, DG Justice), however ECA didn’t examine their respective responsibility for any shortcomings identified in the audit. Does this not reduce the accountability effect of the audit?

A: Responsibilities can only be entrusted to institutions; DGs are not institutions. Therefore, as a general rule, the ECA addresses the Commission as a whole and not the different DGs.

Roma in Europe

The report observes that the Roma people of Europe are the descendants of groups which left the Indian subcontinent around 1 000 years ago and began arriving on the territory of today’s European Union in the 14th century. Today, the Roma population is the largest and mostly marginalized ethnic minority in Europe.

The vulnerability of large numbers of Roma people stems from their social exclusion, discrimination and extreme poverty.

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. The audit report estimates the number in the EU to 6.2 million.

This implies 7 – 10 % of the population in Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia. In the member states where the concentration of Roma population is highest, Roma people account for between 15 and 20 % of school pupils and new labour market entrants.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times