Getting to the Root of Roma Discrimination in Europe

Unless the deep-seated issue of anti-Gypsyism in Europe is addressed, focusing on service provision in health or education for Roma will only bring superficial change. Building sustainable change means involving Roma in the process from the very beginning. The principle of “Roma to Roma”—Roma participation in any policy or strategy that affects Roma people—must be adhered to. In last week’s European Roma Platform VII held in Brussels, it was clear that achieving these goals remains a long way off.

In April last year, all 27 European Union member states agreed to An EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020. The framework represents the EU’s flagship initiative on Roma and means each member state must develop a national Roma integration strategy or relevant policy measures. Though a latecomer to Roma issues—remarkable when over 12 million Roma live in the EU—a consensus amongst member states to move forward on Roma was a major triumph. Last week’s platform was billed as “extraordinary.” Its purpose was to allow governments, civil society bodies, and international organizations to review the content and potential implementation of their national Roma integration strategies.

Of course, agreeing to act is one thing, implementing lasting change is another. A recent survey by the European Roma Policy Coalition (ERPC), which monitored the development of national Roma strategies, concluded there is insufficient emphasis on combating anti-Gypsyism. Also lacking is any meaningful participation of Roma and civil society in the development of these strategies.

Michaël Privot, current chair of the ERPC, said: Putting an end to anti-Gypsyism must be an integral part of the National Roma Integration Strategies. Although addressing the gaps in employment, health, education and housing is important, there will be no progress without making the elimination of anti-Gypsyism a key priority of the national strategies.” There remains a clear lack of political will in the European Commission and amongst member states to confront the biggest challenge to national Roma integration strategies: the continued rise of anti-Gypsyism in Europe.

While tangible issues like employment or health may offer easy targets for national strategies, the deeply destructive roots of anti-Gypsyism must too be confronted. In the development of these strategies, as much as possible, they must be by Roma, for Roma. Put simply, if policy makers are advocating integration and inclusion, they must first practice what they preach. Doing so would be an important step towards tackling anti-Gypsyism.

In reality, different member states have approached the EU Framework with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Opinion in Germany is divided over the need for a national strategy. The German government recently claimed that Roma and Sinti in Germany are well integrated and therefore a national Roma integration strategy is unnecessary. This directly conflicts with the Zentralrat der Deutschen Sinti und Roma and other Roma organizations who state that Roma in Germany—both native and migrant—do not share the same rights as other Germans. In their view, a national Roma integration strategy for Germany is vital.

There was a distinctly different flavor to last week’s platform. The speeches from Members of the European Parliament were less technical and more forthright. Parliament members themselves highlighted the lack of Roma voices present. The insufficient progress of the European Commission’s Roma task force was pointed out as was the lack of any clear financial commitment regarding Roma. These uncomfortable remarks to the European Commission were greeted with applause but the question remains: Is the Roma Platform and EU Framework able to stop anti-Gypsyism in Europe?

The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies is the only framework document on an ethnic group in Europe. Yet the Framework and integration strategies are only the first step. How the integration strategies are developed and what they include must be widened. Reforming healthcare, education, and employment for Roma is an important step. It will however be of little use if no Roma are involved in the reform process and society still views Roma as an “ethnically inferior” underclass.

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