Blacklisted – the new low of the European Commission

Last week a close friend told me that the European Commission blacklisted the NGO she works for. I used to work for the same NGO in the past. The members of the network are people I know for a long time- people I am proud to have worked with- committed and hardworking.

The idea that ERGO is blacklisted by the European Commission sounded foolish to me and I expressed my doubts that such a thing is possible and encourage her to continue.

A few days ago, accidentally, I found out that in fact she was right. ERGO is indeed blacklisted.

The idea that the European Commission can blacklist an NGO such as ERGO should sound preposterous for anybody that knows the Roma civil society. The fact that ERGO was blacklisted because dares to criticize the European Commission and tries hard to find and experiment alternative solutions that could work but are uncomfortable for bureaucrats in Brussels is plain scary.

This is the most dangerous approach the European Commission has taken up to this moment. It is much beyond acceptable arrogance of a far too confortable bureaucracy.

It leads to radicalism and polarisation as it will push some of the best, passionate and most motivated Roma activists towards Euro-skepticism and into becoming the enemies of the European Commission.  It will reward at the same time the large number of opportunists ready to pay lip-service towards the Commission and provide the needed fake reporting of positive practices for whatever the European Commission supports while criticizing those disliked by powerful bureaucrats in the EC. In medium to long term that will have catastrophic results for the credibility of the European Commission as well as for the development of a healthy Roma Civil Society.

The NGOs financed by the European Commission should be those capable to change things at the grassroots in the communities and not those that are producing hot air and are ready to do whatever needed to please the Commission. The NGOs paid by the EC should not be what most of them are at this moment- a tool the Commission uses for self-praise and to say critical things it can not say itself to the Member States.

In addressing issues as complex and sensitive as Roma issues are, the Commissions need to hear critical voices and adapt fast before it goes into a disastrous direction as it happened many times in the past.

In the last Commission there were high-level people within the EC that were patient, emphatic and smart that would gather the valuable and critical voices and discuss and work with them. They functioned as mediators between the passion and permanent sense of urgency of the activists and the constrains and slowness of a huge bureaucratic apparatus such as the European Commission. Spidla’s cabinet and the Deputy Director within DG Regio and people at DG Enlargement and DG Social Affairs are just some of these examples. Despite a horrible clash I had with the head of unit in charge of Roma at that moment- Belinda Pyke- she continued the dialogue and gained both my respect and support. Commissioner Andor himself and his cabinet are doing some of this mediation work still but his DG is much less politically relevant than it is the DG Justice that decided to blacklist ERGO.

There is no chance the Commission will acknowledge that indeed it blacklisted ERGO. This, again, is understandable. What would be impossible to understand is to carry on with this silly approach.

The EC needs people like those part of ERGO network as allies if to have a chance to convince the Member States to do what they need to do in order to stop the rampant exclusion Roma face and the terrible economical consequences that come with it.

I sincerely hope that the EC will decide to go back on appointing people with experience and capacity to negotiate conflict of ideas in charge of dealing with NGOs and give a strong signal to fast to blacklist egotistical bureaucrats that this is not the way the EC works.

Passionate Roma activists make mistakes and yes, we are not always fair with the bureaucracies. We can be stubborn, sometimes plain nasty and almost always impatient.

But some of us work in some of the worst ghettoes and communities and face working conditions and risks few of you at the EC can comprehend.  We do not have your comfort and rarely have the patience to understand your institutional constrains.

But you are obliged to try your best to work with us because you are not willing and most of you can not do the work we do. And while there are millions that wish to have your jobs there are almost none that want ours.

So do stop this idiocy of blacklisting uncomfortable people with spines that have a record of great results and show the sense, mediation skills and professionalism we need from the best paid bureaucracy in Europe.

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