Equity must play a key role in Europe’s recovery

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Equity must play a key role in Europe’s recovery
Council of Europe, Dosta Campaign

The EU has long stressed the need to improve the situation of Roma in Europe. In 2011, the European Commission called for National Roma Integration Strategies, under the European Roma Framework. The framework focused on four key areas: health, education, employment and housing, ensuring that effective policies are in place in most of the Member States to reduce the social and economic disparities between Roma and non-Roma population.

In 2013 the EU Roma framework was strengthened by a Council Recommendation on effective Roma integration measures, which prioritized two additional focus areas, anti-discrimination and poverty reduction. Despite efforts at EU and national level, from 2011 until present days, the situation of Romani people, especially in the Eastern European Countries such as Romania, Bulgaria or Slovakia, did not significantly improve.

Policy areas of the framework and the results after its implementation.

The current EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020 it is considered as an achievement by itself and represented a turning point for Roma communities in Europe. However, as a soft policy tool, it was at the discretion of national, regional and local governments if and how they implement the recommendations into concrete policy actions. Consequently, the Commission report on the evaluation of the EU Roma Framework shows that effectiveness in progress towards Roma inclusion goals was limited with significant differences across areas and countries.

Education was found as the area with most progress (improvements in early school-leaving, early childhood education and compulsory schooling, but deterioration in segregation). The self-perceived health status of Roma has improved but medical coverage continues to be limited.

No improvement has been observed in access to employment, and the share of young Roma not in employment, education or training (NEET) has even increased. The housing situation remains difficult. Antigypsyism and hate crime continue to be a matter of high concern, while in some cases antigypsyism led to murder.

Facts and findings

The number of Roma pupils who left education between 2011 and 2016 at the level of secondary school, on average, decreased from 87% in 2011 to 68% in 2016. The proportion of Roma early school leavers compared to early school leavers in the general population across all countries surveyed remains very high.

In 2019, there were, still, 68% of Roma, who leave education early. In addition, only 18% of Roma children transit to higher levels of education and the absenteeism and early-school leaving rates of Roma are significantly higher than for other categories of pupils.

With respect to employment, the gap between Roma and non-Roma is significant, including the gap in youth who are not in employment, education or training (NEET). The employment rates of Roma are about 40% in most Member States, while Roma NEET on average increased from 56% to 63% between 2011 and 2016.

The housing disparities continue to be significant, with about 30% of Roma still living without water within their dwellings, 36% without toilet, shower, or bathroom.

There was little progress in the number of Roma covered by health insurance between 2011 and 2016. The share of Roma covered by national health insurance is 76%, which is significantly lower than under non-Roma. The share of Roma assessing their health status as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ is 68%. More than a quarter of Roma feel they are limited in their activities due to their health, 22% have long standing illness or health problems and the life expectancy is ten times lower than of the general population.

What should be improved in the post 2020 Roma policy?

It is considered that the main weakness of the current framework is its non-binding character. It is a soft policy, which relies, mainly, on the political will of all levels of government in Member States for putting national strategies into effect, including the administrative capacity and budgets. Unfortunately, most of the Member States developed national strategies without allocating adequate budgets for the implementation.

Another aspect that could be improved is the initial absence of a response to antigypsyism in the current Framework, which resulted in a reluctance to include explicit measures targeting anti-discrimination and specifically antigypsyism in national strategies.

The current framework lacks coherence among priorities. Thematic areas of activity such as political participation, Romani arts and culture, Romani language and history should be explicitly mentioned in the post 2020 policy, as additional measures to the four main priority areas of education, employment, housing and healthcare.

As regards the targeting, it is recommended to increase investment in/and empowerment of Romani youth, women and children (especially those in primary school who face difficulties in going to school because of their families’ financial and social precarious situation), and paying more attention to the intra-EU mobility of Romani people.

The European Commission and the Member States must move from the top to bottom approach, mainly used for the development of the current framework, to the bottom to top one. The EU Roma Framework and the National Roma Integration Strategies should not be used as a political tool to legitimize the work for Roma of the European Institutions and National governments, but rather, to produce measurable and structural changes at the level of local communities. During the last ten years, measures to improve the Roma situation might have looked good on paper, but most of Roma can say they cannot see them as clear changes in their lives and the crisis made it very clear.

The way forward

The European Commission should publish the first proposal for the post 2020 Strategic Framework for Roma Equality and Inclusion around October, this year. Under the rapporteurship of MEP Romeo Franz, the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament is developing a resolution on the implementation of National Roma Integration Strategies, which is expected to be voted in LIBE, in July, and in the plenary of the European Parliament in September.

The resolution will significantly contribute to the proposal of the EC on the post 2020 Roma policy as it states clear calls, especially on the fight against antigypsyism and social exclusion, on the European Institutions and the Members States.

On what should focus the measures of the post 2020 policy for Roma Equality and Inclusion?

The next proposal must put the fight against social exclusion and antigypsyism (the main source of social exclusion) at the forefront. The next EU Framework must demand that the Member States formally acknowledge and recognize antigypsyism, as the specific form of racism against people with Romani background.

Governments need to understand that fighting discrimination is not sufficient when they do not recognize the widespread antigypsyism in European societies. The next policy should ask the Member States to prevent antigypsyism in their national legal systems and include it as a horizontal issue in the National Inclusion Strategies.

The next policy should no longer be a soft policy instrument, but needs to have a binding character. The new proposal must include clear and binding objectives, measures and targets for the Member States, a clear timeline and clear and binding progress indicators, as well as success indicators and adequate funding for its implementation.

The significant participation in all domains of public life, political participation, and the language, arts, culture, history and environmental injustice should be explicitly mentioned in the proposal for the post 2020 EU public policy for people with Romani background, as additional measures to the four main priority areas of education, employment, housing and healthcare.

The EU must strengthen the link between EU mainstream financial and policy instruments, particularly the European Structural and Investment Funds, and inclusion priorities for people with Romani background, as part of the EU Recovery budgets, after the pandemic.

The EU recovery package presented by the president of the European Commission, on 27th May, has a budget of 1.85 trillion euros: 750 billion for the Union’s economic recovery plan entitled “Next Generation EU”, and 1.1 billion through a revived Multi-annual Financial Framework. In this context, the Member States could develop post 2020 National Strategies for the Inclusion of people with Romani background with an adequate pre-defined budget, incorporated into the national, regional and local budgets and which reflects the scale of the social inclusion needs of these community. In addition, a robust monitoring mechanism to ensure effective implementation and appropriate use of funds must be developed.

The Roma Civil Society Organisations from all levels, but especially from local level, could play a very important role by ensuring technical support for the National Government to develop the strategies based on qualitative an quantitative data and by fulfilling their watch-dog role on the implementation and monitoring of the strategies.

This will ensure a strengthened participation of people with Romani background in policy-making, in a bottom-top manner. This will allow the people with Romani background to participate more effectively in policy-making, affecting their lives, at all levels.

A strengthened post 2020 strategic document for Romani people should be seen as a necessity, as an urgency, an opportunity of the EU and its Members States to balance the socio-economic situation among its citizens, to allow its largest ethnic minority and its members (almost 6 million people in the EU) to fulfil their potential, to enjoy the benefits of equal and equitable practice of human rights.

Just imagine the positive impact this community could make to the development of our European societies, when the 80% of Romani people at risk of extreme poverty would be treated as equal citizens. Moving in this direction will be a difficult task, which will require political will and commitment of decision makers.

Everything is possible when you believe and I made the choice to believe that these changes are possible. Many others, including politicians, could make this choice, too.

Marius Tudor

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