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24th Feb 2024

MEPs call for first-ever EU law on Romani inclusion

  • The EU Fundamental Rights Agency warned that the long-standing neglect of Roma makes them one of the most vulnerable groups to the coronavirus pandemic (Photo: Barbora Haviarová)

The European Parliament has urged the European Commission to propose the first-ever EU law to bolster the inclusion of Romani people in the EU.

MEPs adopted on Thursday (17 September) a report, calling for specific legally-binding targets and a clear timeline for member states, as well as success indicators and adequate funding, to break "the vicious circle of poverty" of these communities.

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"[This is] the beginning of a significant change in the lives of my people. I will continue until the law will become reality," said the rapporteur MEP Romeo Franz, who has also Romani background.

The report pushes for targeted action on education, employment, healthcare, housing and gende- equality - including inclusive schooling, access to healthcare and compensation for victims of forced sterilisation.

"Political support when racism against different minority groups is rising sharply is a key point for the inclusion of Romani people," reads the document.

The report also recommends the use of the term "Romani" as better reflecting the heterogeneity of this community, since "Roma" has been used until now as a common denominator to describe several groups in EU policies and discussions.

Romani are Europe's largest ethnic minority. Out of an estimated 10 to 12 million Romani who live in Europe, around six million live in the EU.

However, nearly 80 percent of Romani in the nine member states with the largest such populations live below that country's poverty threshold - typically in cramped neighbourhoods with overcrowded housing and no access to clean water.

Earlier this year, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency warned that the long-standing neglect of Roma makes them one of the most vulnerable groups to the Covid-19 pandemic.

'Soft' approach not working

In 2011, the EU Commission called on member states to implement National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) - which are due to expire this year.

These strategies were especially focussed on ensuring that all Romani children complete primary school as well as on improving their access to the labour market, healthcare and housing.

The European Council set a special focus on anti-discrimination and poverty reduction and, after 2016, member states were obliged to present annual assessment on the latest improvements.

However, a recent assessment of the EU Commission concluded that "effectiveness in progress towards Romani integration goals is assessed as overall limited with significant differences across areas and countries,", adding that anti-Gypsy sentiment remains a matter of concern.

The report, approved by 545 MEPs on Thursday, concludes that the NRISs are "soft policy" that relies, mainly, on the political will of the different levels of governance in member states - adding that this approach fails to recognise that the underlying cause of the issue is systemic prejudice.

Similarly, MEP Cornelia Ernst, who is a member of the EU Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup, said that "the current EU Romani framework has failed because of its non-binding nature".

This report comes one month before the EU Commission adopts its new non-legislative strategy on Romani inclusion and equality up to 2030.

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