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2nd Mar 2024

EU's Roma policy struggles to produce results

  • Roma children remain largely segregated in schools.

The EU's plan to integrate Roma people and help lift Europe's largest minority out of poverty continues to struggle amid persistent reports of discrimination and racism.

Vera Jourova, the EU commissioner for justice, told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday (30 August) that efforts to improve the lives of Roma "is not a trivial task" due to, in part, the increasing number of young Roma without jobs or an education.

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The EU had launched its plans in 2011, but Roma children still remain largely segregated in schools - a practice that led the European Commission to launch infringement procedures over the fast few years against the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.

Such procedures may end up at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should the two sides fail to reach agreement on what needs to be resolved. All three countries face even greater scrutiny once the Commission finalises a probe over the next few weeks into how many children remain separated based on ethnicity.

"It is not a hesitation on my side or not to continue to the next level [of infringements]," noted Jourova. "The relevant date for making a decision is November, when we see the new figures."

Hungary's education minister, Zoltan Balog, had earlier this year stated that Roma children should be segregated in schools, a move that Jourova now appears to accept in areas where only Roma people live.

"I am not in favour of some kind of social engineering, transferring the Roma children somewhere else to school. I just want to have high quality education even in those segregated Roma schools - that is my requirement," she said.

With Bulgaria set to take over the next six-month Council of the EU presidency, Jourova is also hoping for some more progress from Sofia. But the task won't be easy, despite some improvements in the number of Roma children enrolled in early childhood education in Bulgaria.

Valeri Simeonov, a minister who heads Bulgaria's council on ethnic minority integration, once described the Roma as "brazen, feral, human-like creatures".

Appointed in May of this year to the government post, Simeonov is also one of the founding members of the right-wing National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria. The same party is aligned with Bulgarian National Movement and the Attack party.

Jourova said Simeonov's comments on the Roma were absolutely unacceptable, noting that she won't hesitate to go straight to the prime minister if "I see a minister is a racist".

But she is also facing a backlash from human rights groups elsewhere.

Earlier this year, hundreds of Roma were forcibly evicted from informal settlements around Naples in Italy.

Amnesty International said the families were given no alternative housing, amid reports that attempts to start infringement proceedings against Italy on discrimination grounds had been blocked "at the highest level of the European Commission."

Asked about the Italian evictions, Jourova said she wanted more facts.

"I want to be 100 percent [sure]," she said, noting that she prefers dialogue and "strong and intensive pushing" to resolve the problem.

The data on Roma

Jourova's comments follow the publication of the Commission's mid-term review on its Roma strategy, a policy that will continue until 2020.

It noted that up to around 80 percent of Roma are at risk of poverty.

The Commission says that the rate of Roma youth unemployment and of those not in education has also spiked in Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.

"The rate of Roma youth not in education, employment, or training even grew since 2011, which was 56 percent, [and] 63 in 2016," said Jourova.

The commission also found that around half of the Roma population in Bulgaria and Romania have no access to basic medical care. Up to 8 million Roma live in the EU.

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