There is still a long way to go for Roma integration in the EU, the European Commission said on the eve of International Roma Day, on Wednesday (8 April).
In a joint statement, first Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Commissioners Marianne Thyssen, V?ra Jourová and Corina Cre?u stressed that the Roma community, Europe’s largest ethnic minority, with an estimated population of 6 million, still faces exclusion, inequality and discrimination.
“Change will not happen overnight, but the European institutions and member states are committed to fighting discrimination and improving integration,” they said, emphasising their unequal access to jobs, education, housing and healthcare. “Roma children often cannot benefit from the same quality of education as other children,” they insisted.
Since 2011, the EU has put Roma integration onto the political agenda across Europe with mixed results. The Commission is also supporting member states in their work to implement public policies and services for Roma inclusion; the new financial framework 2014-2020, for example, makes it easier to use EU funds for the socio-economic integration of the Roma population.”
According to the Fundamental Rights Agency, one in three Roma is unemployed, one in five has no health insurance, and nine out of ten live below the poverty line. A high percentage of Roma children never complete their primary education, as they are frequently sent to schools for the mentally disabled, on the basis of their ethnicity.
As some schools in Greece have been shut down or merged, access to education has become more difficult for minority groups, including the Roma, a recent report stated.
Speaking at a debate on anti-Gypsyism in Europe organised by Socialist MEP Soraya Post, the only parliamentarian with a Roma background, on 25 March, European Parliament President Schulz said he is “deeply worried” that anti-Roma rhetoric is gaining ground.
Schulz stated that populists use Roma as scapegoats, and violent attacks against Roma are on the rise.
“We see European citizens insulted, threatened and attacked simply because they are Roma. This is outrageous and we cannot accept it,” he said.
Schulz added that for centuries, Roma have been victims of anti-Gypsyism, a despicable ideology based on racial superiority, intolerance and hatred. During WWII, 500,000 Roma were murdered by Nazi Germany, but this genocide has still not been fully recognised.
Solutions at local level
Schulz remarked, however, that over the past ten years, there has been progress in the EU with the Roma issue. Thanks to the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies, every member state now has a national Roma action plan, and funding has been made available within this framework for Roma education projects.
“But these are but the first steps. The path is still long to achieve Roma integration on the ground,” Schulz stressed.
At an event organised by the European Platform for Roma on 17 March, V?ra Jourová, the Justice Commissioner, likewise highlighted the importance of efforts made at the local level.
She said that sometimes local authorities, and sometimes even government ministers, create barriers for Roma integration and have prejudices against Roma.
“We need to ensure this also happens at the national level, in all EU member states, and at the local level too. This is where discrimination and exclusion takes place; and this is where solutions for Roma integration need to be found,” Jourová said.