In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV Bulgaria, German MEP Romeo Franz discusses the problems of Europe’s largest minority – the Roma, and names some colleagues he considers “racist”.
Franz, a Green MEP of Romani (Sinti) origin, urges the European Commission to table a proposal for a “Directive on Equality, Inclusion and Participation” of Romani people in Europe.
Such a directive should become an instrument in the fight against social exclusion and antigypsyism, he argues, calling on the EU executive to introduce a supervisory mechanism to ensure the effective implementation of those rules.
Franz presented a draft report to the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on the implementation of National Roma Integration Strategies. The report urges member states to officially recognise antigypsyism as a specific form of racism against people with Romani background.
This triggered a reaction from Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki (VMRO/ECR), who in turn announced that the European Parliament should adopt a resolution stating it is Roma people’s choice to live in marginal and very poor socio-economic conditions in Europe. According to Dzhambazki, the Roma community “sabotages attempts to be fully integrated” into European societies.
Franz says there are “some racist members in the European Parliament”, naming Angel Dzhambazki (ECR, Bulgaria), Traian Basescu (EPP, Romania) and Milan Uhrik (Non-attached, Slovakia). Traian Basescu is a former president of Romania.
“My report highlights one more time the urgent need for the EU and its member states to invest in the inclusion and development of its largest ethnic minority, the people with Romani background. COVID-19 has clearly shown us how many of my people suffered, with no access to water, food or sanitising products to keep them safe from the infection,” Franz said.
No education and poor sanitary conditions
Franz cites data from the Commission report on the evaluation of the EU Roma Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020, which shows that countries are making some progress in this regard, although limited.
In 2019, 68% of Roma children left the education system prematurely. 30% of Roma people do not have access to water and 36% do not have a toilet or bathroom in their homes.
“Antigypsyism and hate crime continue to be a matter of high concern, despite evidence of some reduction in discrimination experiences of Roma when accessing services in some areas,” Franz commented.
Franz doesn’t talk about “integration”, but “inclusion” as people of Romani origin have been citizens of European countries for more than 600 years and they should be accepted and treated as equal European citizens.
“My report calls on EU member states to officially recognise antigypsyism as a specific form of racism against people with Romani background and to develop, in their legal systems, measures to combat this phenomenon, including public hate speech and hate speech,” said the German MEP.
Franz urges the European Parliament to table a resolution calling for the promotion of Romani languages, arts, crafts, history and culture in school curricula at EU and national level.
The resolution asks for granting reparations to Romani people in three categories: those who survived the Holocaust, women who have been forcibly sterilised, and those who suffered from police brutality during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, and Czechia are the EU member states with the highest percentage of people with Romani background.
“In these countries, some of the mayors stop paving the roads at the entrance of the Roma communities. There is a lack of interest on the part of public authorities to invest in marginalised communities, simply because, in many cases, they can better manoeuvre them in times of elections,” Franz said.
According to him, EU-funded projects should pay closer attention to ordinary people affected by antigypsyism.
“They are the real beneficiaries of these projects. It is a paradoxical question indeed: Why after at least 20 years of EU and state-funded projects for Romani inclusion, the situation now is worse than it was 20 years ago?” Franz asks.
The German MEP suggested that NGOs should no longer replace the state in providing services to citizens. According to him, the responsibility should be handed back to the national governments, while NGOs should strengthen their watchdog capacity ensuring targeted policies reach Romani people on the ground.
Bulgaria relies on foreign donors
At the beginning of 2019, a journalistic research uncovered that in the last ten years Bulgaria has not spent money from its own state budget on almost any meaningful projects focused on Roma inclusion. Nevertheless, the country has distributed nearly €350 provided by foreign donors.
At the beginning of last year, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the nationalist VMRO party Krasimir Karakachanov stated that Europe had failed to integrate the Roma community in Bulgaria. However, data shows that if anyone finances Roma integration projects in Bulgaria, it is the EU and other European countries. It is clear that the state is failing to use the funds efficiently.
The allocated funds for Roma integration in Bulgaria since 2005 amount to nearly €345 million. About 97% of this money is provided by the EU, the Norwegian Financial Mechanism and Switzerland. The Bulgarian government has used the remaining 3% of funds mainly for concerts, round tables, and conferences.
(Edited by Frédéric Simon)