Between a rock and a hard place – the new Commission and the social inclusion of Roma

Social inclusion of Roma is a long term, complex, expensive and very difficult process. The new Commission cannot continue making the same mistakes as the previous one.

Useless and very expensive conferences, bombastic empty speeches, “copy-paste” “newspeak” type reports, trainings for the sake of spending available money and poorly thought projects focused on absorption of money rather than addressing the problems did nothing but delegitimized the European Commission and Member States efforts and weakened even further the already weak Roma civil society.

The new Commission has a good chance to do much better than the previous one. President Juncker is probably the most experienced politician when it comes to long-term plans (almost two decades as Prime Minister) and there are a number of pragmatic Commissioners with strong portfolios that might bring about the much waited for positive change.

What needs to happen:

a. Take some strong institutional measures capable of both increasing the pressure on the “Roma reluctant” bureaucrats within the Commission and National Governments. Here some suggestions

  1. Appoint within Juncker’s cabinet a strong Roma expert focused not on building a long-term career in the Commission but one capable for at least the next 5 years to push reform within the European Commission and Member States. A Roma Focal Point with a number of national Roma experts lead by a public well respected personality ( ex- president of Finland, ex- Human Rights Commissioner) under the direct supervision of President Juncker would be even better.

Such a measure needs to address the existing high incentives for self-congratulation, embellished reporting, avoidance of sensitive issues ( such as rampant anti-Gypsyism, corruption, abuses of children rights, trafficking, limited civic responsibility both within the majority population and Roma population when it comes to social inclusion) within the EC and Member States. Window dressing measures, institutional racism, abysmal results at the level of grassroots, poorly designed funding policies are all issues that need to be tackled if we want to rebuild legitimacy of the EC and Member States to address Roma issues.

  1. Reform the Roma Unit -its activity under the previous Commission has been an embarrassment.

There are some good and some exceptional experts within the European Commission and Roma Unit but their expertise has been rendered useless by the previous senior and middle management. The consultations with the Roma civil society were at best poorly thought and the transfer of expertise from the few Roma NGOs with strong activities at the grassroots to the Commission failed. Some very good steps taken during the mandate of Vladimir Spidla were ignored and need urgently to be revisited and build upon. Moving the Roma Unit under DG Regio ( the best initiatives up to this moment came from DG Regio) or the supervision of a strong and interested in Roma issues Director General might also be a solution. Bringing back in the European Commission dedicated, pragmatic and expert people such as ex-Deputy Director General Katarina Mathernova and ex–cabinet member of Spidla, Jan Jarab might also help.

The Roma Unit should be concerned about what the Commission can/should do and not as it was often the case in the past on passing the blame of failures on Member States, Roma civil society, local administrations or whoever else. The anti-discrimination Unit needs to get a grip and start acting seriously against anti-Gypsyism. Putting the same effort that it was wasted into justifying inaction and incompetence when it comes to racism against Roma will do.

  1. Appoint EC national Roma experts tasked to act as an interface between the governments and the European Commission. They should be working closely with the EC Representations in the countries and facilitate the dialogue between government, local administrations and those that have expertise working in Roma communities. The purpose of such appointments would be to put more pressure on the Member States to adopt policies, prepare and implement plans that will address the core of the problems and not the surface of Roma inclusion process.

There are a good number of people in the European Commission that have the needed expertise and might like to go back to their countries and do their best to steer and motivate the national governments and Roma civil society to work better and more efficiently together. There are also a good number of Roma experts at the national level that would very much welcome such a challenge.

b. Member States need to assume their responsibilities towards Roma social inclusion. Make them pay for secondments of the much-needed experts and ensure that these experts are empowered to come up with solutions and implement them.

The EC needs urgently people with hands-on expertise inside. The existing network of Contact Points is a joke and therefore the results are laughable. This can be changed by making Member States that complain about Roma issues and those that have a significant Roma population assume responsibilities and help finding the best solutions. Attracting people with best possible expertise is the first step forward. Creating an innovative fund administered by a council of experts and the EC focused on supporting long term pilot interventions at the grassroots is another thing that should be done.

c. Focus on grassroots. The nexus of all the problems is that the overwhelming part of the EU money ends up being spent on things that make no impact whatsoever in the most vulnerable and visible Roma communities.

We need to acknowledge that most of the money spent by the previous Commission and EU funds spent by Member States were wasted. Developing ways to stimulate efficient and sustainable grassroots interventions is where the focus needs to be.

None of this is revolutionary. Similar things have been done to address important issues such as gender and disability based discrimination. There was strong will to tackle seriously  gender and disability issues. That or a series of disastrous crisis will force change in the case of Roma too. A good deal of this choice stays with the new Commission and Member States.

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