Marking International Roma Day, the European Commission on Monday (8 April) urged member countries to ensure that NGOs representing Roma are involved in the planning and use of EU funds for integration into society.
Five commissioners issued a joint statement to mark International Roma Day, established in 1990 at the fourth World Romani Congress in Warsaw.
Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding (in charge of justice), László Andor (Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion), Johannes Hahn (Regional Policy) and Androulla Vassiliou (Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth) accused member countries for failing to deliver on agreed policies for the Roma.
They said that the Commission will adopt before summer a report on how states implemented their national strategies on Roma inclusion.
"In addition, the negotiations on EU Funds for the period 2014-2020 will be decisive. It is crucial to ensure that national Roma contact points, Roma NGOs and experts are involved in the planning as early as possible,” the Commissioners said.
EU funds for inclusion
EU Structural Funds – the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) – have been mobilised to boost national efforts for Roma integration, alongside national budgets.
Although the three funds total €50 billion per year, the commissioners said not enough benefits disadvantaged Roma communities. They urged the national Roma contact points to be closely involved in the planning of the use of EU money.
Roma comprise one of the largest ethnic minority communities in Europe, with a population estimated by the Council of Europe at 10 million to 12 million.
World Bank research shows that full Roma integration could bring around €500 million a year to the economies of some European countries by improving productivity, cutting welfare bills and boosting tax receipts, the commissioners argued.
“Roma integration thus must not be seen as a cost, but as a social investment, and will be key in achieving the targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth,” the commissioners said in a statement.
France and several other EU countries have been criticised for their treatment and expulsions of Roma. Several German cities have requested EU funds to cope with the influx of Roma from Bulgaria and Romania who are seeking better opportunities in richer EU countries.
The European Network Against Racism called for “a real commitment” by the EU and its member states to take the fight against “anti-Gypsyism” seriously. Chibo Onyeji, chair of ENAR, said: “We are witnessing alarming incidents of anti-Roma rhetoric at the highest political level in many European countries. How can the National Roma Integration Strategies put forward by EU member states be properly implemented if public figures representing the government make openly racist statements? What we need is a concrete commitment by Member States and the European Commission to publicly condemn statements inciting violence and racism and preventing Roma from participating fully in European society. If the European Union wants to ensure ‘inclusive growth’, it cannot remain silent to such hateful statements.”
MEP Lívia Járóka (EPP, Hungary), the only Roma member of the European Parliament, said on International Roma Day on 8 April: "I truly hope that the framework will be able to overcome its early shortcomings, since after the clear and very disappointing failure of the Decade of Roma Inclusion initiative, it would be an irreparable mistake to let the European Framework be downgraded into superficial window-dressing, while we are losing another generation of Roma who sink deeper into social exclusion. And in these times of economic crisis, when the very functioning of the EU is being put to the test, it is even more important to lift those obstacles that vulnerable and marginalized communities encounter and to help them gain full access to their rights as EU citizens."
British MEP Graham Watson, president of the ALDE party, said: "Roma people still face a serious range of discriminations, all leading to the vicious cycle of social exclusion. To break this cycle and improve integration we must favour and ensure education to younger Roma generations. After all education is one of the best means to improve employment prospects and quality of life, to reduce poverty and ultimately to boost integration.
"Roma children of today will be entering the labour market in 2020 when we will hopefully see the fruits of the EU framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. The cycle should be broken now and not in 2020."
Jorge Nuño-Mayer, secretary-general of Caritas Europe, said: “Across Europe, real progress in improving the living conditions and opportunities for Roma remains limited. Especially in certain countries, a high proportion of Roma persons are affected by extreme poverty and social exclusion. The Roma are the most marginalised ethnic group in Europe, facing deep social problems related to low educational levels, high unemployment, inadequate housing, poor health and wide-ranging discrimination, all of which are interrelated and create a vicious cycle of social exclusion. The situation is worsening due to the current economic crisis and the growth of racist discourses and movements”.
Ivan Ivanov, who heads the European Roma Information Office in Brussels, said: “Whilst Europe deals with the financial crisis, it is important that on days such as this the national governments and the institutions of the EU and its candidate countries hear the voices of Roma people. For Europe to prosper, it must stay true to its values and ensure that equality in every field applies to all communities, not just the majority.”
The Roma are Europe's largest ethnic minority, EU figures show. The European Commission estimates the Roma population in the EU at 11 million, with their origins tracing back to mediaeval India.
Census statistics show that 535,000 Roma live in Romania, 370,000 in Bulgaria, 205,000 in Hungary, 89,000 in Slovakia and 108,000 in Serbia. Some 200,000 Roma are estimated to live in the Czech Republic and Greece, while 500,000 live in Turkey.
Many Roma from Eastern Europe moved to the West following the EU's enlargement.
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