Sweden in secret talks with Romania on beggars

Swden shopping street

Roma panhandler in Sweden, 2013 [sigfrid lundford/flickr]

For months, the Swedish government has held secret negotiations with Romania, in an attempt to help Roma migrants in Sweden, the local press has revealed.

However, the negotiations have collapsed, and Sweden is now turning to the EU Commission. “I’m angry, sad and disappointed,” Sweden’s minister for EU Affairs and Democracy, Birgitta Ohlsson, told Dagens Nyheter.

Swedes are witnessing far more beggars on their streets, with 90% of them coming from Romania, according to studies by Stockholm’s Social Administration. Though the situation has led to an intense national debate, Sweden is different from other European countries, Ohlsson said.

“We have a more empathic view of these people. I think that other countries, especially Romania, are surprised to see how we deal with the situation. Many Swedes have a tremendous empathy and sympathy for these beggars and really want to help. I believe that Romania has understood this now. I think it’s horrific, and really provocative when people suggest that you should ban begging,” the minister stated.

According to Dagens Nyheter, the Swedish government started secret negotiations with Romania a couple of months ago in order to put pressure on Bucharest to take better care of its citizens. As Romania is the second-poorest country in the EU, the Swedish strategy has been to get Romania to use more support from the EU, for the country’s most vulnerable citizens. According to Dagens Nyheter, Romania received billions from the EU’s structural funds, but only spends around one-third. Only a small amount of this money has been spent on its Roma community.

The Swedish government has negotiated with Romania’s government, EU commissioners and ministerial colleagues in Brussels. Together with the Commission and other member states, Sweden has demanded the establishment of a taskforce in Bucharest, in order to make sure that resources from the structural funds reach the poor. But Romania has rejected the plan.

“We tried to get Romania behind the proposal, but so far they have declined. I think it has something to do with political lack of willingness and prestige and that you don’t want other countries to interfere domestically. It’s not something that will make you win an election. I’m so angry over the lack of interest they have shown,” Sweden’s EU affairs minister said.

She added that the issue is a question for the whole of Europe, not only Sweden and Romania. Between 2014-2020, around €22.5 billion are available for Romania via the funds. Sweden wants the taskforce to consist of experts from Poland and Latvia, which has had a similar history to Romania, and Roma, as well as Swedish experts. Sweden wants a similar taskforce as the one currently in Greece, making sure that the country uses its money responsibly, avoiding corruption, and improving people’s lives, Ohlsson said.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, said according to the newspaper Expressen:

"I know nothing about the correspondence between Sweden and Romania regarding this question and the member states have the biggest responsibilities for their citizens. But they have received big amounts of money to work on these issues. Both Romania and Bulgaria can do a lot more."

The Roma are Europe's largest ethnic minority, EU figures show. The European Commission estimates the Roma population in the EU at 11 million, with their origins tracing back to mediaeval India.

Census statistics show that 535,000 Roma live in Romania, 370,000 in Bulgaria, 205,000 in Hungary, 89,000 in Slovakia and 108,000 in Serbia. Some 200,000 Roma are estimated to live in the Czech Republic and Greece, while 500,000 live in Turkey.

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