The national Roma integration strategies submitted by the EU's member states to the European Commission amount to a “first step” towards making “a real difference in the lives of the Roma population”, the Commission says in a communication released at the end of May. And, certainly, member states have taken no more than a first step.
Though the communication is carefully nuanced, leavened with faint praise and a smattering of “good practice examples”, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Commission's verdict on the strategies is fairly damning.
Last year, Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, hailed EU leaders' decision to adopt an EU framework for national Roma integration strategies as a “huge step forward for millions of Roma”. That upbeat hyperbolic tone has given way to a distinctly downbeat but more realistic assessment of progress. This communication is welcome, for it stands as a clear declaration of intent and resolve that the EU is prepared to do more; it is high time for its constituent democracies to do likewise.
The message from the Commission is that while the national strategies vary in terms of quality, scope and ambition, even the best fall far short of what is required: “Much more needs to be done when it comes to securing sufficient funds for Roma inclusion, putting monitoring mechanisms in place or fighting discrimination and segregation in the key priority areas.”
In the four key areas, of health, housing, education and employment, the communication sets out priorities that member states should address further “in order to meet their responsibilities.” In education, for example, “as part of an integrated approach” member states are urged to eliminate school segregation and the misuse of special needs education; increase early childhood enrolment; improve teacher training and mediation; raise parental awareness; and promote vocational training.
From these urgings, it is clear that member states have failed to adopt an integrated approach to inclusive education, and have failed to address the basics to ensure that Roma children will have full and equal access to quality, integrated education by 2020.
On the crucial question of putting your money where your mouth is, or in EU terms, securing the financing necessary for sustainable implementation, there is a big problem. The framework called on member states to allocate sufficient funding from national budgets, and identify complementary sources of EU funds. The Commission's verdict is that, for most states, “it remains unclear what specific funding is earmarked to support their Roma policy for the coming years.”
In many countries, the record to date is dismal, the capacity to absorb and manage EU funds is weak, and the impact on Roma communities remains negligible. There is a grave danger that when it comes to Roma inclusion, the next round of EU funding could be characterised by improved absorption capacity simply translating into greater amounts of money being misused and disbursed to diminishing effect.
This poses a real threat, for in times of austerity, a lack of transparency and ill-conceived squandering of funds could feed into increased majority resentment towards Roma as the undeserving beneficiaries of European largesse. It is time to listen up to the demands from Roma civil society for an external review of how EU funds have been used to date for Roma inclusion.
Beyond accounting for monies spent, there is a need to ascertain what has been achieved, what amounts to good, bad and downright useless practices. The focus needs to switch to impact and the imperative for member states to demonstrate how the smart use of EU funds can make a “tangible difference to Roma people's lives.”
Basically, the Commission is calling on all member states to live up to their democratic responsibilities towards their Roma nationals: to devise concrete measures; allocate proportionate financial resources; set clear targets for measurable deliverables; and to be “convincing” in fighting discrimination. In essence, this is a repeat of what the Commission called for last April in the framework communication.
That the Commission has to call for it all over again, after the submission of the strategies, stands as an indictment of member states' less-than-adequate commitment to Roma inclusion. Hindsight tells us that social exclusion carries heavy costs for society: the prospect of another “lost generation” of Roma is intolerable.
Right now a little foresight could go a long way to averting a social crisis of major proportions in the future.
That is the gravity of the challenge ahead. These national Roma integration strategies just do not make the grade, and without a complete overhaul they will not make the kind of difference needed by 2020.
A version of this article appeared in the European Voice on 23 May 2012.