This article was originally published on openDemocracy.
By Violeta Naydenova
Three months ago, Mitko Yonkov, a 17-year-old Roma from the Bulgarian village of Ovchepoltsi was violently beaten by a 24-year-old non-Roma man. The ‘reason’ for the attack? Yonkov told his assailant that they were both equal, despite their different ethnicities. The attacker recorded the beating and posted it on social media. It is a distressing example of how deeply rooted and widely tolerated anti-Gypsyism is across Europe.
The European Commission launched the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies in 2011 with the goal of addressing discrimination and reducing the gap between Roma and non-Roma in access to employment, education, housing, and health care by 2020.
Halfway through the EU Framework, Roma inclusion is still far from being a reality. If we look at education, segregation of Roma in education is high and growing. The Roma Inclusion Index has measured that between 2005 and 2015 in Slovakia, segregation of Roma children in schools for the mentally disabled has increased from 31 percent to 51 percent. In Serbia, the amount of Roma placed in schools for mentally disabled is 36 times the rate of non-Roma in comparison to 2005. These figures clearly indicate that the EU Framework for Roma Integration is failing to reach its objectives.
First, the current National Roma Integration Strategies do not adequately respond to anti-Gypsyism, which takes the form of anti-Roma prejudices and racist state practices. The data from the 2015 Roma Inclusion Index show that 64 percent of Roma have experienced discrimination in the Czech Republic and Hungary.
To tackle discrimination against Roma in education, the European Commission used the EU anti-discrimination legislation and launched three infringement procedures against the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. However, the unlawful practice of sending Romani children to schools for mentally disabled children when they are not continues.
And a number of member states such as Italy, France, Bulgaria, and Romania continue to use forced evictions and segregated Roma housing. It is essential that the European Commission persists in and extends its actions against member states that violate EU anti-discrimination law.
But legislation, even with robust enforcement, will not be sufficient to address the deeply rooted racism in institutions and society, especially in light of growing intolerance toward Roma. A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center showed that majority populations in a number of European countries have negative sentiments towards Roma with the striking numbers of 85 percent of Italians and 66 percent of French people.
To address this effectively, the European Commission should put in place dedicated funding and specific policies, which work consistently to combat anti-Gypsyism as a specific form of racism in every policy area, such as education, healthcare, housing, and employment.
The other major aspect for the failure of the EU Framework is the lack of any accountability and transparency on the progress made on policy and funds spent by EU member states. Countries report to the European Commission on a yearly basis on their progress on Roma inclusion.
The collected reports are published in a summary document—the EC Communication. But, their full reports are not public, so no external actors can check what they have reported on. The process of preparation of this yearly document is closed to civil society organizations, who are also allowed to report on the progress, but have no indication as to what information the European Commission will decide to use.
Since 2011, substantial amounts have been allocated and spent by the European Commission and national governments on Roma policies, but no results have been seen on the ground. According to the newly published report of the European Court of Auditors, despite $1.7 billion EU funds having been earmarked for integrating marginalized communities, such as the Roma, between 2014 and 2020, it is not clear how this amount has impacted Roma communities. The court mentioned that the lack of data on ethnicity makes it difficult to assess Roma inclusion projects funds by the EU.
The solution is to reform the current EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. This means that in the strategy of each member state, funding, policies, and legislation should be used to combat anti-Gypsyism effectively in every policy area such as education, healthcare, housing, and employment.
In order to monitor the impact of integration policies, accountability and transparency mechanisms for member states should be put in place and implemented. Data disaggregated by ethnicity should be collected to show whether policies and funding are making a difference in Roma people’s lives.
The court reports that Roma account for between 15 to 20 percent of school pupils and new labor market entrants in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Hungary. If the EU and national governments turn a blind eye to effective Roma inclusion, 6 million EU citizens will be lost to European societies and markets.
The European project cannot afford to leave them behind. Even worse, young Roma like Yonkov will continue to be subjected to violent hate crimes for daring to claim their equality.
Violeta Naydenova is a Bulgarian Roma working as a policy analyst for the Open Society European Policy Institute. She works on tracking and analyzing the development of EU policies, funding, and legislation on social inclusion, especially for Roma, and developing strategies to influence them.
[Photo courtesy of WikimediaCommons]