Time for Roma integration in the EU



European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding has called on EU Member States to do more to integrate its Roma populations.

Last week she spoke at the Roma Roundtable, attended by a number of key players from Roma civil society.

Along with the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion László Andor, they discussed the progress made so far and the next steps to be taken to ensure the proper integration of Europe’s 10-12 million strong Roma population.

“The laws that we need to prevent discrimination of Roma are there,” Reding told Equal Times. “What is not functioning is integration.”

Reding commended some states for making “real and serious efforts” towards improving the lives of Roma citizens but said that high levels of poverty amongst Roma populations speak of severe social exclusion.

“I’m very disappointed at some Member States, as they are not putting in practice what is stated in their national strategies,” she said.

When asked which Member States should be singled out for praise and disapproval, Reading replied, “It is not a beauty contest. It depends on the problems that each country is facing. If a country hosts one or two thousand Roma people, it’s different than if it has to deal with hundreds of thousands. That’s why at this stage naming and shaming makes little sense.”

But she did encourage some member states to look at examples of good practice to learn from them: “Ministers, unlike students, are allowed to copy when they stumble upon a success story.”

At the round table, NGOs and the European Commission could share their views on the outcomes of a three-year joint effort towards Roma integration and assess what is still to be done.

In April 2010, under the Spanish presidency, the first EU Roma summit was held in Cordoba (Spain).

In 2011, the Commission adopted its EU framework for Roma Integration Strategies. The first report on the implementation of Roma national strategies was published in 2012.

By the end of 2013, the Commission will publish a second progress report on the compliance of national strategies on Roma integration by Member States.

Several NGOs who took part in the round suggested setting up a specific Roma fund to finance integration projects, but Commissioner Andor said the emphasis would be on targeting specific actions rather than particular groups of people.

He also advocated a greater role played by the Committee of the Regions.


Still segregated

Nicolas Berger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions bureau, said the Commission is not doing enough to hold Member States accountable on their Roma integration targets.

“Every year, thousands of Roma people are forced to leave their homes. In many countries, Roma school children are forced to attend segregated classes which provide inferior teaching. They’re denied work and can’t get proper health care. They’re victims of violent hatred and often go unprotected by the police. All this is because they’re Roma. This is happening because EU countries are failing to enforce the EU’s own anti-discrimination laws. Enough is enough.”

“The European Commission is responsible and has the means to ensure EU countries comply with EU law and combat anti-Roma discrimination and violence,” he added.

“But the Commission has yet to exercise these powers. The Commission is quite simply failing to use its own legal tools like the infringement procedure to hold Member States accountable”.

Heather Grabbe, Director of the Open Society Institute for European Policies, said countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic and Slovakia don’t have monitoring mechanisms to check whether their strategies are effectively implemented.

“The Commission should exercise all its possible pressure to make compliance really happens.”


The next steps

When asked why politicians and policy makers were failing to implement these strategies, Gabriela Hrabanova, Policy Co-ordinator at the European Roma Grassroots Organisations (ERGO), put the blame on anti-Roma racism.

“This attitude must change, and Roma have to be considered as full citizens and active participants to society, and not only as those who live on benefits, cause problems and experience extreme forms of poverty,” Hrabanova commented.

Ivan Ivanov, director of the European Roma Information Office (ERIO), highlighted the importance not to limit the efforts towards integrating Roma people to combatting poverty and improving their material conditions: “This is just part of the problem, as there are Roma who are not living in poverty but are nevertheless experiencing multiple forms of discrimination.

“It’s very unfortunate that the national strategies were drafted in a general anti-Roma political atmosphere, where politicians found it convenient not to really commit themselves to solving the issues of integration and discrimination,” he added.


More information available on the Commission website on Roma.