08 Aug 2011 / 12:12

All Eyes on EU’s Roma Framework

Nikoleta Popkostadinova
Sofia

In the wake of last year’s expulsions from France, the EU’s Roma framework has promised to take a tougher line on monitoring member states’ efforts to integrate marginalised minorities. Not everyone is convinced.

One EU Roma Framework goal aims to ensure all Roma children finish primary school

In the summer of 2010, the Roma became the subject of intense and renewed press attention after the French president, Nicholas Sarkozy, deported about 9,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria, bulldozing the illegal camps in which they lived on the outskirts of French cities.

Immediately NGOs, governments, institutions, organisations - notably the UN, the Council of Europe and EU bodies - and the media engaged in a fierce debate as to whether France was breaching human rights and freedom of movement of individuals by targeting Roma.

One thing that is for certain is this incident put the issue of Roma exclusion throughout Europe under the spotlight.

“Ironic and even cynical as it may sound what the French government did was the biggest contribution to public awareness of Roma,” says Matthias Verhelst, a strategic advocacy officer at the European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network, ERGO Network. “The media and political attention was unprecedented.”

Gelu Duminica, executive director of the Impreuna Agency for Community Development, a Roma organisation based in Bucharest says: “I may sound stupid but sometimes I really think that we, the Roma NGOs, must send a thank you letter to Sarkozy.”

The result was that the European Parliament, in a resolution on the expulsion of Roma from France, called for “concrete and forward-looking measures to improve the social integration of Roma" and to contribute "to improving the situation of Roma".

EU framework goals:

  • Education: ensuring that all Roma children complete primary school
  • Employment: cutting the employment gap between Roma and other citizens
  • Health: reducing the health gap, for example, by cutting child mortality among Roma
  • Housing: closing the gap in access to housing and public utilities such as water and electricity

The framework is in line with the EU's broader Europe 2020 targets for employment, social inclusion and education

In addition, the EU justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, announced in April this year that member states had until the end of the year to draft national Roma plans in accordance with the EU strategy for Roma integration and inclusion.

Member states are obliged to develop and implement targeted policies, and devote sufficient resources to promote integration in four priority areas: health, housing, education and employment.

Furthermore, the commission plans to introduce a robust monitoring regime - including annual reporting on progress - to ensure both that strategies will be properly implemented and the money set aside for Roma projects actually reaches the intended beneficiaries.

The commission made it very clear that national governments are primarily responsible for developing and implementing plans to tackle Roma discrimination and promote social inclusion and that they should do so by allocating resources from their national budgets.

That said, the EC noted in April this year that up to €26.5 billion of EU funding is currently earmarked to support member states' efforts in the field of social inclusion, including Roma projects.

“Since May 2010, the rules to use money from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) have been changed, which makes it easier to ask for EU funding for projects to help minority groups, like Roma, to get a house,” says László Andor, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.

“In addition, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) has been used by some member states to further the integration of Roma.”

Cautious Optimism

According to Magda Matache, executive director for Romani CRISS, a Roma human rights group based in Bucharest, the European Commission seems prepared to push forward the Roma dossier.

“Member states are ready to give it a larger role in developing an EU framework of strategies focused on economic and social inclusion. Though it remains to be seen to what extent they will allow the European Commission to exert pressure on governments regarding their Roma policies,” she says.

Indeed the European Commission’s EU Framework was greeted with a combination of hope and criticism.

Many look to the fact that the EU Framework is not a voluntarily initiative as a sign that it could succeed where other programmes have failed. All 27 member states will have to draft their plans.

Campaigners and activist also point out that the European Commission offers help for nations preparing their strategies.

The part which NGOs anticipate to have the greatest impact, though, is the monitoring mechanism.

“Before 2007 (when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU), in the pre-accession period there were more achievements in Roma integration than after 2007,” says Daniela Tarnovschi, project coordinator at the Soros Foundation Romania.

“So I hope that again the European Commission pressure will have positive effects on real implementation.”

“Reding’s appeal for strategies proves, once again, that the [Roma] decade failed and we need better support from the European institutions”

Gelu Duminica, Impreuna Agency for Community Development

There are now four months left until the end of the year when member states should be ready with their strategies, but still there is no word from the European Commission how exactly the monitoring mechanism will look like.

“The European Commission says there must be robust monitoring but it is an open question,” says Biser Alekov, network manager at the ERGO Network. “There are no clear guidelines on how it will be conducted and monitoring all the policies could be very difficult.”

Roma NGO heads are also worried that as the European Commission will gather data from different stakeholders, there is no clear plan on how exactly it will reject superficial national strategies, monitor and pressure governments into taking concrete action. 

Romania is the EU country with the biggest Roma population, numbering around two million, almost ten percent of the country’s total population. More than 90 per cent of the Roma expelled from France in 2010 were Romanian.

Here is what Matache at Romani CRISS in Bucharest says about Romania’s new draft plans that are supposed to comply with the EU framework:    

“First of all the plan of actions presented as a proposal for the new strategy contained documents with deadlines for 2007 and 2008 – copy pasted from older strategies. Secondly, they were not developed on the basis of the needs and possibilities in the new context of economic and social crisis, let alone the fact that an objective evaluation pointing out the lessons learned from the previous strategies was missing.”

“This fact is an indicator that despite the political pressure from Paris, London, Rome and Madrid and ultimately Brussels, the Romanian government is oblivious to the extreme social exclusion of its Roma citizens.”

Matache warns that the Romanian proposals “are very superficial, unprofessional and they don’t prove a clear interest of the government in the Roma issue. I am afraid that the European Commission is preparing its next big failure.”

Another element drawing much criticism is that the EU framework is too modest in its goals.  

Robert Kushen, executive director of the European Roma Rights Centre points to the EU framework’s call that all Roma children should complete primary school.

“Almost all member states’ national plans on education demand much higher levels. Primary school just won’t give Roma the abilities they need to get a job,” he says, adding that the EU framework recognised what must be done but is, at the same time, lacking ambition.

The EU framework and the Roma decade    

The social crisis with the Roma eviction from France followed by the EU framework came exactly halfway through the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 initiative, signed by 12 European countries all with sizeable Roma populations. It was meant to prompt governments into improving the lot of their Roma populations, particularly with regard to the same four main areas that the EU framework addresses: education, employment, health and housing.

“The Decade of Roma Inclusion is basically the guidelines for creating the EU Framework strategy,” says Adem Ademi, a programme coordinator at the Decade of Roma Inclusion’s Secretariat Foundation based in Budapest.

“The vision of the EU Strategy is very similar to the vision of the decade signed in 2005. The four pillars of the decade can be found in the EU strategy as basis for building the national strategies.”

Many believe that the decade and the EU framework are practically the same.

Duminica of the Impreuna Agency for Community Development in Bucharest says the two are more than related, since their principles and target areas are the same.

“I really think that if the decade was efficient in EU countries, Reding’s position would not be necessary,” he adds. “Reding’s appeal for strategies proves, once again, that the decade failed and we need better support from the European institutions.”

The difference between the decade and the EU framework is that the latter is not a voluntary initiative and it announced robust monitoring – in contrast to the former.

But not only there are no clear guidelines on the widely anticipated monitoring, but also there is no mention on how the two initiatives will work together.

Verhelst of the ERGO Network says: “There is a reference to the decade in the EU framework, but there is no distinction or how they will be related. And, in my opinion, the EU framework will be faced by the same obstacles and difficulties as the decade.”

Poor Record on Roma Integration 

The European Parliament and Reding’s call for Roma integration measures did not really set a precedent in EU history.

NGOs are concerned the EU framework lacks:

  • Specific measures to combat discrimination, hate speech and violence against Roma
  • Clear gender goals, which experience has shown is crucial to achieve good results
  • Explicit measures for Roma youth
  • Sufficient coordination to ensure effective involvement of all relevant stakeholders including civil society, Roma civil society, regional and local authorities
  • Plan for full and effective monitoring

In the pre-accession phases, Brussels insisted Roma integration must remain a priority for the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and throughout Europe. But beyond issuing critical reports, Brussels did not bring about much change in the status or prospects of Roma.

On paper, all those countries comply with EU standards on human rights, employment, housing and education. In reality, Roma remain at a distinct disadvantage, facing social deprivation and segregation across the continent. That is the reason why they flee their countries of origin and head to western European states in search for a better life.

And while the debate raged whether France had unfairly targeted Roma, Germany is preparing to return around 12,000 Roma to Kosovo, half of whom are children including many who are German-born, notwithstanding the call to western European states by UNICEF and the Council of Europe to stop forcibly returning Roma to Kosovo.

Sweden has deported some 50 Roma for “begging,” even though begging is not a crime in Sweden; Denmark, Belgium and Finland have summarily expelled Roma in 2010; other states apply similar policies or have announced new restrictive measures, such as Italy, that have been documented by the European Parliament.

While Roma evictions from France definitely raised the Roma’s political profile across Europe, it seems as if nothing much happens beyond calls for strategies.

Both Roma countries of origin and destination continue to play ping-pong with the so-called Roma issue without taking any concrete, on-the-ground action. These should be contained in the member states’ policies and backed up with sufficient budgets and enforced by strong monitoring.

Until then, Europe is destined to witness more social crises like the Sarkozy-Roma one of 2010.  

This article was produced by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence Alumni Initiative, established and supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and ERSTE Foundation.

Fellow Bio

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Nikoleta Popkostadinova

Nikoleta Popkostadinova from Sofia, Bulgaria, is a freelance journalist specializing in social affairs.  She has worked as a reporter for the Bulgarian weekly Capital and Transitions Online, and as an editor for the monthly magazine Vice

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