26th May 2020

Brussels critical of national strategies on Roma

  • Life expectancy of Roma is 10 years lower than the EU average (Photo: EUobserver)

National Roma integration strategies submitted by member states to the European Commission fail to fully assess the needs of Europe's largest minority.

Speaking to reporters in Strasbourg on Wednesday (23 May), EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said the desperate situation of Roma is "a wake-up call for leaders."

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EU leaders in June 2011 had backed a European Commission plan to end the centuries-old exclusion of the continent's 10 to 12 million Roma minority. Most live in Bulgaria, followed by Slovakia, Romania and Hungary. Access to education, jobs, healthcare and housing are among the four policy priorities.

The scope and detail of the strategies vary. The Dutch national strategy, for instance, is six pages long whereas Sweden's is 68. Others do not bother to address healthcare and housing at all.

"This [healthcare and housing] is a weak point because this is an area where more is needed," said Reding. "We need more than strategies that exist on paper."

Millions of Roma continue to suffer daily discrimination, stigmatised by some mainstream politicians, as well as street violence and poor health. Life expectancy of Roma is now 10 years below the EU average.

In Pescara, Italian Romani citizens face vigilante attacks. Thousands took to the streets in early May chanting "hunt Roma" for five days following an incident in which an Italian Romani man was suspected of murder.

Pescara police warned Romani citizens last week to stay indoors or risk violence, according to the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). In France, Roma, including children, face multiple forced evictions and are not presented safe or secure accommodation alternatives.

A joint report on the situation of the Roma in 11 member states by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the United Nations Development Programme published on Wednesday also says widespread Roma exclusion persists.

"The results are shocking in many respects: of those surveyed in this report, one in three is unemployed, 20 percent are not covered by health insurance, and 90 percent are living below national poverty lines," stated the report.

Despite the problems, member states have for the most part failed to absorb any of the €26.3 billion in available EU funding for the period covering 2007 to 2013.

Dezideriu Gergely, executive director of the ERRC, told EUobserver from Budapest that some 70 percent of the EU funds have yet to be used. "Either they [member states] are not coping with the feasibility of the projects or they are not interested," he said.

He added that some member states are disingenuously using austerity as an excuse to not follow-through on their commitments. "Member states are not relying on their own resources. They are using EU funds," he added.

Only 12 countries have clearly identified allocated funding and presented specific amounts for Roma inclusion policy measures in their strategy papers. Most of the funds come from the EU's European Social Fund, which is part of a cohesion basket worth some €75 billion.

For its part, the commission wants the member states to start implementing the strategies.

It will also send country specific recommendations to improve the strategies and warned none will be able to access future ESF money without first presenting "appropriate" Roma inclusion strategies.

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