Where is Europe’s Roma policy?
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 12:39

 

THE Roma community is beeing chased from countries across Europe. Romania and France have sent Roma back and forth since 2007, when Romania joined the European Union, but it seems that the French are now intending to pursue a harder line towards the Roma from Romania in their country.

On September 12th, Manuel Valls, France’s interior minister, and Bernard Cazeneuve, the minister for European Affairs, travelled to Romania to discuss Roma integration with the country’s president and prime minister. The visit was expected to bring some concrete proposals on how to improve the integration of the estimated 400,000 Roma living in France (a large part of whom are from Romania). Yet they only struck a framework agreement that allows some 80 Roma families who wish to return to Romania to receive “financial support for economic reinsertion” by the French authorities.

Mr Valls stressed that the countries’ joint efforts should be focused on finding a solution for the Roma people to settle in their country of origin. He has defended the recent police raids to break up Roma camps in France on health grounds. "France has a policy of evacuating illegal camps and of escorting them [the Roma immigrants] to the border," Mr Valls added.

Traian Băsescu, the Romanian president, and Victor Ponta, the prime minister, said they are willing to co-operate with France in order to integrate the Roma community into Romanian society. Yet Mr Băsescu criticised Mr Valls for a remark he made a day ahead of his visit when he said that “France cannot accommodate all the misery in Europe." Mr Băsescu stated that Romania is not chasing its Roma citizens out of the country and added that Romania could send extra police to France, if needed, to dismantle criminal Roma networks. Mr Ponta said the real solution to the problem is education and jobs: children from Roma communities need to attend school regularly and Roma need to find stable jobs in Romania.

Despite European integration strategies, EU funds and political and diplomatic efforts, Europe has so far been unable to integrate the Roma people. Most efforts were focused on dismantling Roma criminal groups whose activities are widely reported in the media. Yet beyond this stereotyped image of Roma immigrants, many Europeans know very little about Roma traditions and cultural heritage and the history of Roma persecution. Offering Roma citizens €300 ($390) and putting them on a plane back to Romania, as the French authorities did, is not a solution, but only a paid vacation. A large category of Roma citizens emigrated to western Europe because they wanted to work and offer their children a better life then the one they had in Romania.

The European Commission’s Roma integration strategy points out four crucial areas such as access to education, employment, health care and housing. Only a limited number of Roma children complete primary school and many of them are in special education and segregated schools. Due to their poor living standards and limited access to quality health care, Roma people live on average ten years less then other European citizens.

When it comes to employment, full Roma integration in the labour market could bring economic benefits estimated to be around €500m annually for some countries, such as Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia or the Czech Republic, according to World Bank research. Their integration would improve productivity, reduce government payments for social assistance and increase tax revenue.

Up to €26.5 billion of EU funding is currently available for member states for social inclusion projects for the Roma. Yet countries like Romania (which has the highest number of Roma in Europe, more than 1.5m) are having problems accessing these funds. In many cases, the EU is financing only up to 80% of a project and the government needs to pony up the rest.

Gelu Duminica, the head of the “Impreuna” Agency for Community Development, a foundation that supports the integration and development of the Roma community, says five of their programmes that are financed through the EU are currently suspended because the Romanian government didn’t make payments: “The situation is desperate. Some of our staff had to make personal bank loans so we could continue to finance these programmes. If the government doesn’t make the payments by February next year, we will lose all the money and shut down the foundation.” Mr Duminica believes corruption and bureaucracy are the main causes for this delay. If the government does not wake up to the need to support Roma integration much more actively and to give the Roma a voice before elaborating integration strategies, it will continue to be haunted by Romania’s biggest societal problem for the foreseeable future.

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