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17th Jan 2021

Coronavirus

Policy input goes online after coronavirus hits Roma Week

The European Commission is preparing a new post-2020 EU policy on Roma inclusion as part of a major policy framework, "A Strong Social Europe for Transition".

This new EU Roma inclusion policy is scheduled to take effect in the final quarter of 2020.

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  • The coronavirus led to the cancellation - along with hundreds of other events - of the European Parliament's planned Roma Week later in March

Civil society can participate in designing the EU Framework through a public feedback process at DG Justice until 16 March.

The post-2020 guidance was also meant to be a major topic of the 2020 EU Romani Week at the European Parliament beginning 23 March - but that event has been cancelled due to the coronavirus.

The current EU framework on how member states can promote Roma inclusion is in its final year. As recent research has documented, millions of Romani people in the EU continue to face exclusion daily, sometimes to an extreme degree.

According to the commission's midterm evaluation of the EU framework, the added value of such guidance is that without it, Roma issues would receive less attention from those designing and implementing policy at all levels.

In some countries, without the EU framework to set expectations, there would probably not even be a National Roma Integration Strategy.

Increasing economic participation by Europe's biggest minority has been a key aim of past guidance. The commission will also be proposing a new EU Council recommendation to reinforce the next framework on achieving equality for Roma.

Input is also being sought from other European institutions and international organisations in the member states and accession countries.

Among the 705 members of the European Parliament, there are three who openly declare their Romani heritage: Romeo Franz (Greens/EFA), Lívia Jároká (EPP), and Peter Pollák (EPP).

Feedback so far

Iulius Rostas, visiting professor at the Romani Studies Programme at Central European University, has called for a paradigm shift in how inclusion policy is framed with respect to the Romani minority.

In his new book, A Task for Sisyphus: Why Europe's Roma Policies Fail, Rostas argues that political participation is key to ensuring Romani people can contribute to the design of the policies that affect them.

The long history of exclusion and the strongly negative feelings still held by many toward Romani people are why they have yet to develop effective mechanisms for representing their own interests, according to Rostas.

Research has shown that political parties tend to avoid advocating for the inclusion of Romani people due to this unpopularity.

International civil society organisations such as the European Roma Grassroots Organizations network have been calling for the post-2020 guidance to be based on a thorough understanding of anti-gypsyism and the role it plays in Roma exclusion.

Recent research by the Roma Civil Monitor project has also found that in the member states with the largest Roma populations – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania or Slovakia – there is little to no political price to pay when Roma inclusion policies fail.

Desirable inclusion

The lack of a political cost to this policy failure corroborates the finding that electorates do not yet see Roma inclusion as beneficial. Convincing everybody otherwise is the challenge now facing the Roma in Europe and their allies.

In Slovakia, for example, civil society groups report that while the inclusion of socioeconomically disadvantaged people is being promoted in general, the schools remain segregated on an ethnic basis – a fact which prompted the commission to launch infringement proceedings recently in response to Slovakia's long-term neglect of this growing problem.

If the benefits of desegregating education could become a political priority in the various member states where it is an issue, then achieving the inclusion of Romani children in education would very likely increase educational achievement overall.

Similarly, civil society groups in the Czech Republic have recommended the government invest in developing educators' abilities to serve diverse communities and desegregate the schools.

In their view, schools where Roma children are educated in worse conditions than those of their non-Roma peers should be closed if they cannot successfully prepare their pupils to access secondary education, which is not compulsory there.

Giving Sisyphus a hand

The commission's own communication last year to the council and the European parliament on how the member states are implementing Roma inclusion summarised the information provided by the member states as well as findings from civil society, expert consultants and the Fundamental Rights Agency.

Some member states reported the inclusion of Roma and non-discrimination generally have newly become part of national curricula and teacher training.

Cooperation among the various stakeholders was also mentioned by the member states as a challenge to increasing the inclusion of Roma in education.

One conclusion drawn is that public awareness-raising about the importance of inclusive, intercultural education needs to be undertaken to generate political support for it.

Author bio

Gwendolyn Albert lives and works in Prague. She contributes to research about human rights and the Romani minority in Europe together with academics, activists and officials of intergovernmental organisations.

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