Roma policies must tackle anti-Gypsyism

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Roma have been part of European society since the 13th century. [Adam Jones/Flickr]

Last month, the European Parliament voted an important resolution aiming to fight anti-Gypsyism, the specific type of racism directed towards Roma, write Ismael Cortes and Anna Striethorst. The resolution is a good first step, but member states must now follow by making decisive commitments to address anti-Gypsyism at the national level.

Ismael Cortes is a policy analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute. Anna Striethorst is a senior policy officer at the Open Society Roma Initiatives Office.

The resolution recalls the long historical roots of anti-Gypsyism, drawing parallels to Europe´s infamous history of anti-Semitism. Roma have been living in Europe since the 13th century, labeled as “gypsies” and treated as an alien people hindering the progress of European civilisation. Such stigma has had a lasting negative impact: surveys on intolerance regularly report the highest levels of hostility towards Roma among all groups in Europe.

The European Parliament’s resolution proposes a set of 58 ambitious measures that, taken together, could lead to a shared policy for EU Member States to combat racism against Roma. In it, the European Parliament calls on the European Commission to be more assertive against “racially motivated forced evictions” and to enforce EU law against keeping Roma children in separate schools. It also promotes the inclusion of Roma history into national school curricula and calls for Roma women to have full access to sexual and reproductive rights.

In past years, Roma individuals and communities have been victims of pogroms and racist assaults in EU countries such as Ireland, France and the Czech Republic. In some cases, as in Slovakia, Italy and Bulgaria, police forces have acted with brutality against members of this ethnic group. This must stop: member states have to enforce the law and protect Roma victims of hate crime. They have to sanction hate speech in any format, be it in political discourse, the media or online comments. In modern democracies, public institutions do not only mirror society’s values, they lead to societal transformations. They have a responsibility to educate the public and to stand up to protect everybody.

It’s good that the European Parliament has started this discussion. For a long time anti-Gypsyism was the elephant in the room of Roma policies. In the EU Roma Framework, the unique policy tool for addressing Roma inequality in member states and enlargement countries, anti-Gypsyism is not even mentioned once. In the framework, the “Roma issue” is approached simply as a vulnerable population that needs to be integrated into the mainstream. In this way, national governments committed themselves to supporting “Roma inclusion”, while remaining silent and inactive on the anti-Roma racism deeply rooted in European societies.

In our view, all social policies for Roma will prove fruitless if they are not backed-up by a commitment to stop racist discrimination. The European Commission has urged member states to take measures against anti-Gypsyism in the midterm review of the EU Roma Framework. It is currently being assessed – the results will be announced next spring – and the Commission should take the parliamentary resolution on anti-Gypsyism into account when designing and implementing European Roma policies. We believe that the EU Roma Framework after 2020 needs to be combined with a thorough reform of such policies, including the adoption of a set of concrete measures against anti-Gypsyism.

Expanding the objectives of the current framework will require a major increase of EU funds allocated to Roma. And the existing funding requires a more effective spent: policies of inclusion will remain inefficient unless they address the racist barriers that Roma face in the key areas of education, employment and urban planning. The preparation of the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework offers an extraordinary opportunity to tighten the spending rules for EU funds and to prioritise anti-racism in the EU´s programs.

The European Union is grappling with its own identity crisis and dilemmas on integration. In this context, the combat against anti-Gypsyism must be seen as part of a wider battle against the threat of nationalist populism. Ensuring the non-discriminatory treatment of 6 million of its Roma citizens would be a good way for the EU to assert its core values. In this regard, the upcoming reform of the EU Roma Framework offers a concrete occasion to start. We hope that the EU will not miss this opportunity.