The Roma community is considered one of the largest transnational minorities in Europe, with an estimated 10-12 million people. However, it’s a group with one of the lowest life expectancies and worst health records in Europe, since Roma often lack access to proper housing, education, employment and political representation. One of the causes of this is the discrimination often faced by the Roma community, which has led to the rise of extremist movements in countries like Hungary, to mob violence in Romania in the 1990s and to episodes of hate speech in countries like France.
The European Union (EU) supra-national bodies and Member States have used a wide range of legal, policy and financial instruments to support the social inclusion of the Roma Community. Alongside the support offered by international partner organisations such as the Open Society Institute, the World Bank and the Council of Europe, their commitment to improve the welfare of Roma has taken shape as the Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005- 2015), where further measures to raise the living standards of Roma were pledged.
Yet, although mechanisms for social and administrative accountability exist at both the international and national level, the programmes implemented have had limited success and the Roma have not always been able to benefit fully from the investments made. A recent Communication Document sent by the European Commission to the European Parliament, highlighted that Member States often do not make proper use of the funds they receive due to poor administration, limited capacity to absorb funds and inadequate involvement of Roma NGOs in the formulation and implementation of policy proposals. Although the participation of Roma in the policy decision-making process has been declared to be essential for the successful integration of the Roma community, Roma citizens are still underrepresented in mainstream parties, governments or European institutions, including the Fundamental Rights Agency.
Currently, an increasing wave of migration from Roma citizens from Eastern and Central Europe is being experienced by some Western countries. As a result, a high level meeting was recently held inStrasbourg among government delegates from France, Italy, UK, the Netherlands and Spain to debate priorities for addressing issues of national security given the current situation. No representative from countries where Roma are coming from was invited to take part. It is debatable whether the meeting will be of benefit to both parties. Previous measures taken by France, for instance, have had little success. Paying for Roma citizens’ flight tickets home alongside other monetary incentives may have in fact led a larger number of Roma to migrate to these countries.
Nevertheless, there is hope that the highly committed civil society organisations could change the current situation. A number of Roma NGOs have pledged to fight for the rights of the Roma community and have made considerable progress in ensuring Roma citizens’ social inclusion. For instance, the implementation of a health mediator at the initiative of a local NGO (Romani CRISS) was a successful scheme, which was later adopted by the Romanian national government and promoted by the Council of Europe as positive practice for Roma inclusion. Nevertheless, despite the progress reported by NGOs, the problems this community face are multi-sectoral and require a combination of expertise from the public sector and Roma NGOs and resources from national, regional and local authorities. Stronger transnational representation structures, allocation of funds at local level and actively consulting and involving Roma community are initiatives that could help Roma to become responsible and active citizens.
Yet, a number of fundamental questions still remain unanswered:
– What level of commitment is required from international organisations, home and recipient national governments and local authorities to ensure the Roma community’s successful social and political integration?
– To what extent should Roma citizens participate in policy decision-making and how much responsibility should lie with Roma NGOs?
– To what extent is the deportation of Roma from some Western countries based on European Union law, given the legitimacy of the EU directive on Free Movement of Persons?
It is beyond the scope of this blog to provide any specific solutions since the issues are transnational and depend on individual countries’ willingness to take action. However, it is surely vital to ensure that such questions are considered.
*Diana Pirjol  did an MPhil in Epidemiology and has a particular interest in the Roma Community in Europe. Picture credit: UNDP and Creative Commons.