BRUSSELS—George Soros and members of the European Parliament gathered in Brussels today to encourage member states to stand firm behind an agreed blueprint for ending discrimination against the Roma and improving their educational, housing, and employment opportunities and access to quality health care.
“Ignoring the urgency around the need for national strategies on Roma will only worsen the economic crisis faced by European countries,” said Soros, chairman and founder of the Open Society Foundations, which is supporting the conference of parliamentary political groups. “Europe stands to benefit from an educated Roma labor force. They are the youngest, largest, and most disadvantaged ethnic group in Europe today.”
In April, the European Council endorsed the EU Framework for National Roma Strategies, which requests that member states develop by the end of 2011 targeted strategies for Roma in four priority areas: health, housing, education, and employment. Currently Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom are all at risk of not making the deadline.
Millions of Roma remain trapped in a cycle of deprivation where extreme poverty is compounded by widespread discrimination. As Europe continues to struggle with the economic crisis, Roma have been targeted as scapegoats and anti-Roma prejudice has become a mobilizing force for far-right parties.
In recent months, anti-Roma protests have swept across the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, Facebook pages have sprung up calling for their slaughter, and Roma political candidates have been beaten up. In the face of rising intolerance and violence, many Roma families are afraid to venture into public, go to work, or even send their children to school.
“The current situation is unsustainable and stakes are high, not only for Roma but for all Europeans,” said Soros. “If member states cannot make good on their commitments, the region will face increasingly closed societies, illiberal democracies, and continued economic distress.”
Today’s conference focused on best practices for inclusion that have been developed under the Decade of Roma Inclusion and the EU Roma Platform. Member states were encouraged to adopt best practices, such as early childhood interventions, in their national strategies.
The Roma are the youngest and fastest growing demographic segment of the population. According to recent World Bank research, Roma make up 23 percent of new entrants to the labor market in Bulgaria and 21 percent in Romania. Yet the vast majority of working-age Roma lack sufficient education to participate successfully in the labor market, costing Europe hundreds of millions of euros each year in lost productivity. As migration shifts more and more Roma from east to west, Western European countries can no longer ignore the importance of the Roma to the continent’s workforce.
The Open Society Foundations have worked for three decades to improve the lives of Roma. In cooperation with the World Bank, the Foundations launched the Decade of Roma Inclusion, 2005-2015, to increase social inclusion and equality in European countries with significant Roma populations.
The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 70 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.