Saturday

23rd Jan 2021

Opinion

Why EU's new Roma strategy is welcome, but toothless

  • 'We have to be honest with ourselves: without a greater commitment by the EU governments, little will change for our people on site' (Photo: NGO World Vision Romania)

Wednesday's (7 October) post-2020 EU Roma Strategic Framework marks a turning point in achieving equality and justice for Romani people.

I welcome the commitment of the European Commission for a stronger, more clear and demanding strategic document to ensure that more than six million of Romani people in the EU and those in western Balkans will stop to suffer from discrimination and be able to access their rights as equal citizens.

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Building on the evaluation and lessons learned from the 2011-2020 EU Roma Framework, which led only to limited progress, the commission understood and managed to put together a strengthened post 2020 policy.

In addition to achieving equality between Romani people and the general population in the main four strategic pillars of the framework: education, health, housing and employment, the commission makes the fight against anti-gypsyism, the specific form of racism against Romani people, a new priority.

It is a major step forward in the political debate to shift from so-called 'Roma issues' to a perspective that acknowledges the racist stereotypes against Romani people in the majority society as the main reason for their social exclusion and their precarious living situation.

Another important novelty in comparison to the last EU Framework Strategy on Roma Inclusion marks the specific set of indicators that provides the basis to monitor future progress by member states in the inclusion of Romani people by 2030.

This is important, because the last strategic document was very general in its objectives and did not allow a clear monitoring of progress and regresses. This time the context is provided for a more differentiated picture of the member states actions and progress.

Furthermore, the new strategy promotes the equal participation of self-organisations of the Romani communities at all stages of the policy process and a better reflection of the heterogeneity of the Romani communities across Europe.

These new elements reflect largely the claims made in the resolution on the Implementation of National Roma Integration Strategies: Combating negative attitudes towards people with Romani Background in Europe and adopted on 17th September 2020 by the European Parliament, for which I had the privilege to be the rapporteur.

Toothless tiger?

While the post 2020 framework is a strengthened strategic document and paves the road to achieving inclusion for our people, it is still a soft policy.

Even if a council recommendation accompanies it, this will not pose any obligation on the members states to actually implement effective National Romani Inclusion Strategies with adequate funding from national budgets, progress and success indicators, and a robust monitoring mechanism. It misses the binding character of a legislative act.

It is an inconvenient truth: without an equality law for people of Romani descent and without a rule-of-law mechanism, the framework strategy remains a toothless tiger.

How do we actually want to improve the precarious situation of millions of people with Romani background in Europe, when political leaders in the countries with some of the highest Romani populations openly nourish anti-gypsyist stereotypes, like was the case in Hungary?

How are EU funding instruments supposed to achieve their objectives when financing is redirected by national authorities to activities cementing the stigmatization of Romani communities instead of contributing to inclusion and the fight against racism like it is currently the case in Bulgaria?

How can we achieve the inclusion of Romani communities, when several countries showed human right breaches against Romani people in the context of Covid-19 measures without allowing them access to justice?

We have to be honest with ourselves: without a greater commitment by the EU governments, little will change for our people on site.

I am very glad that we currently have a large majority in the European Parliament that is in favour of a European equality law for Romani people and a rule of law mechanism that ensures respect for fundamental rights as a precondition for the member states to gain access to EU funding.

Only with legislative action will we enable Romani people to exercise their rights as equal citizens and ensure that our financial support gets to where it is urgently needed.

'Roma' vs 'Romani'

In addition, I sustain that "Romani" terminology is better representing the heterogeneity of our people, instead of "Roma", which refers to only one of our groups, while we are many others such as Sinti, Kale, Lovara, Manouche, Rissende, etc.

Therefore, I strongly believe that the commission must present to the European Parliament and the Council, in 2021, a legislative proposal to ensure equality, inclusion and participation.

On what legal basis? It is time for article 19 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union that allows us to take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin.

Author bio

Romeo Franz is a German MEP for The Greens, and former board member of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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