Roma integration: new positive developments
Although the process of Roma integration has slowed down, there are positive signs of progress.
The recent judgment by a Hungarian court finding four men guilty of killing six Roma in racially motivated attacks between 2008 and 2009, handing down life sentences to three of them, is an encouraging sign in the fight against racial discrimination. In fact, most EU countries have taken measures to raise public awareness of discrimination. But there are other positive developments. Hungary has designed a robust system to monitor implementation of its national strategy, Spain has trained 158 police forces to deal with ethnic discrimination, and Romania has earmarked 15,000 places for Roma students in schools, universities and vocational training. The EU Progress Report on Roma integration (2013) shows that 16 Member States have improved coordination on Roma integration policies at national level, 18 countries have taken action to establish better coordination between the local and national levels of government, and 20 Member States have introduced structured dialogues with local and regional authorities.
Further developments needed
But there is still a long way to go: segregation of Roma children in education is widespread in several Member States. In some countries less than half of them complete primary school studies. Concerning employment, only one in three Roma are employed. In terms of health, Roma have a life expectancy of 10 years less than the average European and a child mortality rate that is significantly higher than the EU average of 4.3 per thousand births. And access to housing, water and electricity are also much lower than for the average citizen.
The Commission has proposed a new Council Recommendation to face those problems focusing on the four areas where EU leaders signed up to common goals for Roma integration under the EU Framework: access to education (so that all Roma children complete their primary school studies), employment, healthcare (reducing the gap with other citizens), and housing (including access to public utilities such as water and electricity). This Recommendation would be the first EU legal instrument for Roma inclusion.
For putting in place the targeted actions, EU, national, private and third sector funds for Roma inclusion are needed. For the new funding period 2014-2020, the Commission has proposed a specific investment priority for the integration of marginalised communities, such as Roma, and allocated a significant share of the cohesion policy budget to investment in people through the European Social Fund and the use of at least 20% of ESF resources for social inclusion in each Member State.
And the civil society?
It is widely recognized that civil society and particularly the participation of Roma organisations is crucial for success in the implementation of the national strategies. But in terms of involving civil society, only a minority of Member States have established a structured dialogue at national level and even fewer at local level.
At the EU level, the 8th European Platform for Roma Inclusion took place in Brussels on 27 June 2013, exploring the need and possible alternatives for advancing the integration of Roma children and youth. This Platform was set up following the General Affairs Council Conclusions of 8 December 2008 which called upon the Commission "to organise, initially, an exchange of good practice and experience between the Member States in the sphere of the Roma, provide analytical support and stimulate cooperation between all parties concerned by Roma issues, including the organisations representing Roma, in the context of an integrated European platform".
The event brought together some hundreds of representatives from a variety of organisations (NGOs, Churches, national and international public authorities’ observers), and showed how best practices’ sharing and networking can be helpful in continuing to improve the situation for Roma in the EU. But still the commitment should be reinforced to make sure that the strategies and instruments are fruitful.
José Luis Bazán