Brussels urges EU countries to act on Roma integration

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The European Commission has scolded EU states for not delivering on their commitment to implement national strategies for actively integrating Roma communities into society.

"It is good news that Member States have delivered on their commitment and presented Roma integration strategies. Presenting national strategies is a first and important step," said European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding.

"However, Member States now need to move up a gear and strengthen their efforts with more concrete measures, explicit targets, earmarked funding and sound monitoring and evaluation. We need more than strategies that exist on paper. We need tangible results in national politics that improve the lives of Europe's 10 to 12 million Roma," she added.

According to the Commission’s  assessment the majority of Member States have so far failed to allocate sufficient budgetary resources for Roma inclusion.

Only 12 countries have clearly identified allocated funding, whether from national or EU sources, and presented specific amounts for Roma inclusion policy measures in their strategy papers (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Sweden).

The Roma – Europe's largest minority – often suffer racism, discrimination and social exclusion. Many Roma children are still on the streets instead of at school, and their parents are often denied a fair chance on the labour market. Roma women, meanwhile, are frequently victims of violence and exploitation.

A report released yesterday (23 May) by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) on the Roma's situation in 11 Member States showed that, of the Roma surveyed, one in three was unemployed, 20% were not covered by health insurance, and 90% were living below the poverty line.

The FRA's Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos said that Roma in countries like France, Italy and Spain shared a common characteristic with Roma communities in Hungary, Romania and Slovakia – in that they were worse off. 

"That is precisely what we find most shocking," he said. "We would have expected to find significant differences, but from the responses of the Roma people themselves and their neighbours, we see few differences."

Many Roma face prejudice, intolerance, discrimination and social exclusion in their daily lives. They are marginalised and mostly live in extremely poor socio-economic conditions.

“The inclusion of Roma in Europe is a shared economic, social and moral imperative, even if the challenges facing Roma communities vary between Member States," said László Andor, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.

Member States developed national strategies for the economic and social integration of Roma as a response to the Commission’s EU Framework for national Roma integration strategies on 5 April 2011.

“The European Commission’s assessment reveals many of the strategies are so deeply flawed that they cannot even be regarded as a first step forward. They reflect a complete lack of political will. Such complacency is neither acceptable nor sustainable”, said Shannon Pfohman from the European Roma Policy Coalition.

The revenue increase factor

The Commission underscored that EU governments lose out on increased revenue and productivity because potential talent could go to waste.

“In these times of crisis, better economic and social integration of all EU citizens is therefore an imperative – but to be effective, concerted action is needed at all levels to address the multiple causes of exclusion. World Bank research suggests full Roma integration could be worth around €0.5 billion a year to the economies of some countries by improving productivity, cutting welfare bills and boosting tax receipts,” the EU executive’s press release said.

Commissioner Andor stressed that member states should have in place an appropriate Roma inclusion strategy before receiving European Social Fund money for it.

MEP Lívia Járóka (European People's Party) said that EU states' national plans did not fall short of the expected professional validation and complexity, but that meeting the EU's objectives on paper and in practice were very different things.

"Only those projects whose impacts - in the form of clear, concrete actions - are deep and visible, with indisputable results should be endorsed", Mrs Járóka highlighted.

The Hungarian MEP also drew attention to the necessity of ensuring the participatory monitoring evaluation involving Roma communities and helping to develop their capacity and expertise in order to gain a realistic and objective view of the overall success or failure of different measures and instruments.

"For this, the independence of Roma NGOs is very important, since the vast majority of civil society is either paid directly by their homeland governments or they live on EU-allocated sums distributed by national authorities and they find themselves in an inferior position which blunts their criticism towards the authorities and weakens their role as watchdogs", said Járóka, who is the only Roma Member in the European Parliament.

The European Commission adopted an EU Framework or national Roma integration strategies, which was endorsed by EU leaders last June.

Many of the areas for improving Roma integration – such as education, employment, health and housing – are primarily national or regional responsibilities. However, the EU has an important role in coordinating action by Member States and helping with financial instruments, including the Social and Structural Funds.

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