EU Roma Week: From words to action

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Shut out of the labour market. Brussels, August 2015. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

European institutions should continue to put pressure on EU member states to ensure that national strategies to fight Roma discrimination are actually implemented on the ground, write Michaël Privot, Ruus Dijksterhuis and Karolina Mirga.

By Michaël Privot, Director of the European Network Against Racism, Ruus Dijksterhuis, Director of ERGO (European Roma Grassroots Organisations) Network and Karolina Mirga, Chair of ternYpe International Roma Youth Network.

This week saw the first ever EU Roma Week in the European Parliament, and a number of events and debates aiming to consolidate the commitment of the European Parliament and other EU institutions to fight antigypsyism and to turn this commitment into action.

This was an encouraging step towards more recognition of anti-Gypsyism as a root cause of the exclusion of Roma across Europe. It is now urgent to step up efforts to tackle structural and institutional racism so that Roma can be become equal citizens in their societies.

A year ago, the European Parliament adopted a resolution underlining the need to combat anti-Gypsyism and calling for EU recognition of the memorial day of the Roma genocide during World War II.. The European Parliament now needs to consolidate its commitment, and the European Commission and member states should put this resolution into practice.

The European Commission must continue to show its commitment, for instance by having a European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, and establishing Europe-wide truth commissions to acknowledge past persecutions of Roma.

According to the latest Eurobarometer on discrimination, Europe’s largest minority – counting 12 million people – are the most disliked in the European Union. And this is worrisome. For instance, only 54 % of respondents say they feel comfortable working with a Roma person. The lowest proportions are in the Czech Republic (29%), Italy (37%), Slovakia (41%) and Bulgaria (43%).

The European Commission took measures to include Roma in society with the European Roma Framework adopted in 2011, which resulted in National Roma Integration Strategies in 27 member states. However, the Commission should continue to put pressure on EU Member States to ensure that these national strategies are actually implemented.

While EU anti-discrimination laws exist, most of the strategies lack an explicit focus on non-discrimination. In order for these national strategies to be effective and make a change in Roma people’s lives, they have to be respected and implemented by national authorities, which is often not the case. Forced evictions of Roma in Naples and Milan in Italy are just one example.

Member states must officially recognise anti-Gypsyism as a specific form of racism targeting Roma people, and make efforts to place it firmly at the centre of the EU policies, as well as develop approaches to tackle it. This would require an EU high-level Task Force on anti-Gypsyism that can progress parallel to the work on combating anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as part of EU fundamental rights discussions. The Council conclusions which are being prepared by the upcoming Slovak presidency should also focus on anti-Gypsyism.

Roma should be at the core of the policy process, to contribute and propose steps to counter the pervasive structural and institutional racism they face. Policies will not have the expected impact as long as Roma are not considered as essential partners in the process that is intended to make a difference in their lives.

National governments should encourage the majority population, including civil servants, state agents and the judiciary, to respect Roma and support equality, and take steps to challenge stereotypes through public awareness raising campaigns and community-led initiatives.

The EU Roma week put highlight the dire situation of Roma in Europe – it should stay in the limelight until decision makers achieve a step change in their lives and allow them to be treated equally.