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28th May 2022

EU's Roma blueprint 'disappointing'

  • member states so far have dragged their feet in allocating proper resources - with only €100 million earmarked for Roma projects out of the €26.5 billion available (Photo: Council of Europe)

A freshly launched EU policy framework for national Roma strategies is "disappointing", as it leaves it up to member states to deal with the discrimination of this minority - something governments like the one in Hungary are not really willing to follow up on, grassroots activists say.

"We are really disappointed that the framework does not set out any concerted approach to tackle the discrimination of Roma. It only talks about the response of member states to have projects for social inclusion," Matthias Verhelst from the European Roma Grassroots Organisation Network told this website on Tuesday (5 April).

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He highlighted the racist treatment of Roma in Hungary, where the centre-right government seems to tolerate torch-lit marches through Roma ghettos and hate speech of the extreme-right Jobbik party and its affiliated vigilante groups.

"There is a contrast between the proposal that came out today and what needs to be done in the member states, something that was very well illustrated in the incidents in Hungary this past weekend," Verhelst said.

His comments during the EUobserver talk show came just a few hours before the European Commission launched its "Framework for national Roma strategies", aimed at better "guiding" member states in tackling discrimination, poverty, health and unemployment issues of Europe's largest minority.

"There is no evidence that strong and proportionate measures are in place to tackle the social and economic problems of Roma," justice and fundamental rights commissioner Viviane Reding said during a press conference in Strasbourg.

While admitting that member states so far have dragged their feet in allocating proper resources - with only €100 million earmarked for Roma projects, out of the €26.5 billion available, the commission has no real tools available other than naming and shaming, but is reluctant to do even that.

"This is not a beauty contest," Reding said when asked which countries were worst in implementing Roma programmes. "It's about solving problems, and problems are different in Bulgaria where you have hundreds of thousands of Roma and in Luxembourg, where there are only a few hundred."

She stressed the need to close the education gap, as only 42 percent of Roma children complete primary school, compared to an EU average of 97 percent. "This is especially relevant since Roma are a young population, with an average age of 25, compared to other Europeans, who are on average 40 years old."

Back in August last year, Reding made a name for herself when standing up to France over the sudden clampdown on Roma camps and paid repatriations to Romania and Bulgaria.

"What happened last summer was a wake-up call. Everyone in Europe was reminded that there are rights that have to be implemented," she said.

The Brussels-Paris spat ended after several outbursts of anger from President Nicolas Sarkozy and the promise to change the national legislation which transposes an EU law on freedom of movement.

Separately, Roma organisations have taken the government to court for discrimination, banned under French law.

As for the "alarming news" from Hungary, social affairs commissioner Laszlo Andor, himself of Hungarian nationality, said during the same press briefing: "The rise of certain xenophobic and sometimes explicitly racist tendencies in recent years is a major concern and it undermines the social and political stability in certain neighbourhoods and regions."

"This has to be confronted. In a democratic system, which is based on human rights, there can be no tolerance for racism. We really have to have a campaign against xenophobia ... and eliminate such danger that sometimes is life threatening," he added.

Roma rights activist Matthias Verhelst speaks out against the EU Roma framework

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS / EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT (5 March 2011) Disappointing, out of touch with the reality of anti-Roma discrimination in Hungary - this is how NGOs view the latest EU framework policy on national Roma strategies

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