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Strategy on the blink: why the EU should fast track Roma inclusion

Strategy on the blink: why the EU should fast track Roma inclusion

2013. 11. 26.

The communist regime disrupted the traditional communities of millions of Eastern European Roma, and deprived them of their ability to provide their own subsistence or to satisfy even their most basic necessities. The end of the Cold War then brought a sudden upheaval in the post-Comecon area, which unsparingly transformed and polarized our societies, leaving the vast majority of Roma practically detached from national economies and sinking ever deeper into poverty.
 
Realizing that the situation was neither acceptable, nor sustainable, most Member States with a significant Roma population and many concerned international organizations came up with their own ideas for solution. Despite the multitude of good proposals and progressive ideas on paper however, the result was in all cases disappointing. Not only were these incoherent and scattered inclusion programmes completely inadequate for fostering social inclusion, but the accumulation of well-documented failures started gradually directing the responsibility at Roma communities themselves. And this remained the public opinion, regardless of the several studies showing that in some cases less than 10% of all Roma inclusion assets reached their target group.
 
Then came 2004 and 2007, when 12 new countries joined the EU, along with their roughly 4 million Roma. Very soon, as a fairly predictable consequence of juxtaposing free movement with the enormous regional disparities between old and new Member States, a massive, although somewhat overrated influx of migration began. And as soon as the long-established and wealthy democracies of Western Europe became players from spectators, they proved to be no better than those they had been criticising, with their responses ranging from detentions to evictions and expulsions.
 
The complexity of the issue, the lack of actual commitment and the fear of failure have made Roma inclusion a massive economic burden that the actors throughout Europe wished to get rid of by loading it on each other’s shoulders. Or even worse: a political mace that parties would hit each other with, should their selfish and short-term interests demand so. So, after two decades of stumbling from one crisis management to the next under successive governments, it became clear that success demanded a solution that was embraced through the entire continent and across the political divide. A strategy that is supervised and implemented for the inclusion of our grandchildren, not the lifetime of one or two parliaments. 
 
Most stakeholders therefore – who had for long been critical of the piecemeal approach to Roma inclusion to date – cheered when 2011 saw the launch of the first ever EU-level policy for Roma inclusion, and welcomed a more integrated approach eagerly expecting the results. And notwithstanding the unquestionable benefits and advantages of the EU Framework for National Roma Inclusion Strategies, it very soon became a general impression that due to the delays in its preparations and sluggish start up, progress in the field is unbearably slow and the impact is nearly imperceptible.
 
And indeed, the initial phase of the Framework’s implementation has already revealed some significant flaws. Despite – or rather due to – the involvement of several actors, the control and governance of the Framework is not well-defined and it is hard to determine who exactly is responsible for the Framework’s success or failure and to what extent, leaving the process without adequate guidance and quality control. The obvious inclination of both Member States and the European Commission to ‘outsource’ related measures to NGOs and international organizations – that act on behalf of Roma, but without practically any Roma involvement – is also of concern. It risks giving up policy control and insight on the one hand and on the other hand allocates responsibilities to outsiders, who have no legal responsibility for social inclusion. This means that much of our efforts will go astray, unless we introduce a mechanism that will allow for efficiently determine which projects are sustainable and which we should forget about.
 
In its current scoping document also the European Commission highlights some key areas for national strategies to move forward and acknowledges that most Member States have not yet addressed the gaps identified by the Commission’s 2012 communication. The communication is certainly to be welcomed and even more the accompanying proposal for a Council recommendation, which may – if adopted – provide much-needed support and guidance to Member States, especially as the main features of the Framework are still mostly under construction.
 
But success demands to move beyond the basics. That said, policymakers should act in five ways to root out the major risks:
 
First, national strategies must be brought closer to reality. This would mean drafting a ‘flow chart’ of the EU Roma inclusion process in order to clarify the state of play of implementation and the next steps to be taken, as well as to clearly specify the division of tasks and responsibilities among stakeholders. It would further imply developing a ‘Dashboard of EU Roma Inclusion Indicators’, adding outcome indicators, baselines and numerical headline targets to national strategies. This also requires that Member States allocate enough financial assets to fulfil their policy commitments, as well as reflect the National Roma Inclusion Strategies in their national budgetary policies.
 
Second, national strategies must be brought closer to Roma. That is, Roma organizations and local NGOs must be involved in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the strategies. Additionally, a proper framework for consultation, peer learning and the sharing of experience among policy-makers and Roma organizations must be established.
 
Third, national strategies must better target Roma. It means taking into account the multi-dimensional and territorial aspects of poverty and launching integrated multi-sector development programmes for the most deprived micro-regions by mobilizing all available CSF Funds and other EU instruments. Also, urban planning must be mobilized for integration and desegregation, and for developing the infrastructural and environmental qualities of cities that are most unevenly affected by social imbalances.
 
Fourth, national strategies must protect Roma. This implies that the inclusion strategy must operate in a mutually reinforcing and complementary manner with anti-discrimination measures and that our efforts aiming to improve the socio-economic status of Roma must go hand in hand with the fight against discrimination and anti-gypsysm. It obviously means also to put a stop to any collective action against Roma as a group, including forced evictions and mass expulsions.
 
Fifth, the Framework should reach Roma outside the EU. Neighbouring countries – with special regard to the Roma population of the Western Balkans – must in some way be involved into the European level pursuit of Roma integration from the very first stage. The Instrument for Pre-Accession may be an effective tool for underpinning national initiatives and we should seek ways to influence policy-making also through the mechanism of the Stabilisation and Association (SAA) process.
 
After the clear and very disappointing failure of the Decade of Roma Inclusion initiative, it would be an irreparable mistake to let the Framework to be downgraded into superficial window-dressing. Or even worse: a private business area, where a very few earn well, while we are losing another generation of Roma who sink deeper into social exclusion. Furthermore, the socio-economic inclusion of Roma  – so that their figures could approach the regional average – would not only respond to the demographic challenge of the increasing elderly and decreasing working age populations, but could also trigger a substantial economic growth. And it may also contribute to a cultural shift among Roma, from a cluster of closed, defensive and disparate communities to an open, self-aware and integrated European minority.
 
I’ll be working to see that happen.
 
Lívia Járóka