20th Oct 2016

Roma still second class citizens, despite EU efforts

  • An Open Society Institute survey in six member states found that only 42% of Roma children complete primary school (Photo: Boryana Katsarova/cosmos/Agentur Focus)

Despite national strategies on Roma integration, many of Europe’s most discriminated minority are still being treated as second-class citizens.

Zoni Weisz, a 77-year old Nazi Holocaust survivor, on Friday (4 April) asked whether history is at risk of repeating itself.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

“A civilised society respects human rights but still many Roma and Sinti are treated as second class citizens,” Weisz said at the third EU-level Roma summit in Brussels.

Weisz, who lost his entire family at Auschwitz concentration camp for being Sinti, warned EU and national governments against producing more piles of paper in their policy efforts to stamp out prejudice against minorities.

Problems remain pervasive and elusive for policymakers.

Three years ago, local authorities in Cluj-Napoca evicted Romani families from their homes and pushed them into a ghetto near a toxic waste dump where they remain to this day.

A Romanian court declared the eviction illegal but the families have nowhere to turn, according to the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC).

Romania’s president Traian Basescu, present at the summit, warned against anti-Roma discourse at the European level.

“We see at the European level that there are a number of political people that resort to such discourse,” he told the audience.

But Basescu was himself fined in February for making discriminatory remarks against the minority in 2010, describing a majority of the Roma at the time as lazy thieves.

At the summit, he said many are doctors, lawyers and businessmen but are too afraid to reveal their true identities due to the stigmas.

Romania officially has over 600,000 Roma but the true figure is reportedly likely to be higher since many mask their identities.

An estimated 12 million Roma live in the EU.

Member states, for their part, committed themselves last December to reduce Roma social inequalities in education, employment, healthcare, and housing.

In 2011, they each adopted the EU framework for national Roma integration strategies but pro-rights group complain little is being done in substance.

“The commitment to combatting discrimination and human rights abuses against Roma remains largely no more than a promise,” said the ERRC in a statement.

The EU, for its part, in a report released on Friday said some progress had been made since 2011.

It noted more Roma children are attending pre-school and that programmes are in place to improve access to healthcare, jobs, and housing.

EU-wide stigmas remain entrenched.

Last year, police in Greece and Ireland raided Roma families and abducted children with blue eyes and blonde hair.

Irish police returned the seven-year old after DNA tests confirmed the couple where indeed the biological parents. Accusations of human trafficking in the Greek case turned out to be unfounded.

Meanwhile, at the EU level, EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding described the Roma policy wrangling as a major achievement compared to a few years ago.

Few bothered showing up at the EU Roma summit in 2010 in Cordoba, Spain.

“There were only two ministers present and no interest at all about what should be done,” she told reporters.

She noted it took four years before dozens of ministers from member states began to speak out.

“You cannot have a change in the Roma population if the Roma population itself does not want to be integrated,” she pointed out.

Reding had also locked horns with French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 for booting out Roma from the country. Ethnic-based deportations have since stopped in France, she noted.

But not forced evictions.

Last year, France kicked out 21,500 Roma from their homes, sometimes in the dead of winter.

“Where there are illegal settlements, they are illegal and it is possible, under the responsibility of the state, to dismantle those but it is also the responsibility of the national state to see that those people are cared for,” said Reding.

News in Brief

  1. Commuters seeks compensation for Swedish ID checks
  2. EU needs 'firmness and dialogue' with Russia
  3. Moment of truth is coming on Ceta, says Belgian PM
  4. No immediate solution for EU-Ukraine deal, says Rutte
  5. Ceta could be last trade deal, Tusk warns
  6. Tusk: EU summit is no lion's den for British PM
  7. May: EU must stand against 'Russian aggression' in Syria
  8. Croatia appoints conservative Plenkovic as PM

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  2. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  3. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  4. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  5. EASPDJoin the Trip! 20 Years on the Road. Conference & Photo Exhibition on 19-21 October
  6. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  7. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  8. Dialogue PlatformIs Jihadism Blind Spot of Western Intellectuals ? Wednesday 26 October
  9. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum
  10. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  11. EJCEU Parliament's Roadmap for Relations with Iran a Massive Missed Opportunity
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersFish Skin on Bare Skin: Turning Fish Waste into Sustainable Fashion