The European Union said Thursday (26 May) it has launched a probe into charges that Hungary extensively discriminates against Roma children in the country’s schools.
The European Commission said it has informed Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government it has two months to address EU concerns.
“The letter of formal notice raises concerns regarding legislation and administrative practices in Hungary that lead to the discrimination of Roma children in education,” Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told reporters.
The commission said Roma children are “disproportionately over-represented in special schools for mentally disabled children” while many others are segregated in mainstream schools.
The EU’s so-called infringement procedure aims to ensure that Roma children receive a fair education to give them better chances to find full-time jobs and a proper place in Hungarian society.
If Hungary fails to satisfy EU concerns, Brussels could eventually take the case to the European Court of Justice, which could impose financial penalties on Budapest.
Orban’s chief-of-staff Janos Lazar said the EU procedure “doesn’t make sense” because neither Brussels nor Budapest would know the ethnic makeup in schools.
Hungary does not keep tabs on Roma because “it would be against the law to know that,” he told reporters in Budapest.
However, Amnesty International, the European Roma Rights Centre, and other rights groups said they had “extensive evidence” that Roma children faced “persistent discrimination and segregation” in Hungarian schools.
Dorde Jovanovic, president of the ERRC in Budapest, said the Hungarian authorities “wilfully continue to marginalise thousands of our children within a prejudicial education system” even though the European Court of Human Rights has called on Hungary to end a history of such segregation.
“Hungary’s aggressive discrimination against Romani children denies them the opportunities to succeed, and traps yet another generation in deprivation and poverty,” Jovanovic said in a statement with Amnesty.
The rights groups said they had evidence that 45 percent of Roma in Hungary attended segregated schools or classes.
EU officials who are urging all member states to share the burden of tackling Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II have already taken Orban to task over his refusal to admit refugees because they are Muslim.