Incentives for manufacturing realities – The EU funds for Roma
I argued in the past that most of the EU money focused on social inclusion of Roma is wasted due to some basic and arguably appalling failures in the way the EU funds are designed, distributed and monitored. I concluded that the existing European and National mechanisms meant to deal with Roma social inclusion are dysfunctional and without serious reform will result in an increased exclusion and anti-Gypsyism within the European Union as well as disappearance of Roma civil society.
These failures are a logical result of significant incentives towards “manufacturing realities” of the existing stakeholders in the Roma Social Inclusion. These incentives are rarely if ever discussed and remain unaddressed.
In what follows I will examine some of these incentives
- Incentives for big (over 2.5 million EUR) and medium size (over 500.000 EUR) European projects targeting Roma social inclusion.
The bigger those projects are the higher the risks for major errors. Big amounts of public money require tough regulations that lead to inflexibility and high administrative costs. Lack of Roma expertise at the level of design as well as the limited professional administrative capacities within the Roma organisations make such type of project more detrimental than useful when it comes to the social inclusion of Roma. Regardless, the main incentives for the stakeholders are for requesting and arguing for “big money projects” as explained next.
Member States with large Roma populations have poor absorption rates of EU Structural Funds in general. When it comes to Roma social inclusion the absorption rates are simply, dreadful. Pressure from the European Commission as well as from the national politicians to improve significantly the use of EU Structural Funds force bureaucrats at the national level to focus on big projects as those are the fastest route to better absorption rates. The reduced administrative and professional capacity within the governments, local administrations and management authorities works also as an incentive towards pushing even more for these big projects.
European Commission(EC) itself has very poor expertise on the Roma subject and often receives undeserved pressure from practically all other stakeholders to come up with consistent results proving progress in the process of Roma social inclusion. The EC prefers large projects as those require much less work for its own bureaucracies, look much better when reporting and most importantly moves responsibility from the EC to the Member States or other stakeholders.
Other intergovernmental institutions such as UNDP, World Bank, OSCE, Council of Europe, UNICEF have also a strong incentive to support such projects as that significantly reduce the competition for EU funding. The administrative capacity for dealing with big funds of these organisations is incomparably better than the capacity of the Roma NGOs. Some of these intergovernmental organisations would be unable to continue their Roma or social inclusion programs in absence of EU funding for Roma. This can be applied also to large international NGOs.
The strongest national Roma organisations have significant incentives to support such projects as they are net beneficiaries of such funding (very good salaries, possibility to take part in many EU level meetings that come with great per-diems, increase visibility at the EU and national level etc.). Opposing such funds could significantly weaken their influence and visibility but also dent their legitimacy among Roma communities. Not wanting or being unable to access the EU money is perceived by the majorities and Roma alike as a waste of a great chance to infuse important financial resources to poor Roma communities.
Big and large EU funded projects have no or very limited possibilities for errors and adaptability. From the time of setting the priorities that makes possible the financing until the project is implemented an average of three to five years will pass.
Such a time-period is in strident discrepancy with the reality in the most difficult Roma communities and Roma ghettoes where significant changes happen in this three to five years time-frame. These type of situations would require flexible funding and highly adaptive and efficient organisations ( which is not at all the case of Roma organisations at this moment).
Changes in such EU projects are difficult and almost always include financial penalties.
Due to the large funds even small percentages of financial penalties for such funds will bankrupt a Roma organization or small to medium local administration. These are precisely the most important stakeholders if to have a successful social inclusion process. At this moment the overwhelming majority of ESF funds in Romania are forced to pay financial penalties.
Such huge funds also attract the attention of criminal networks or corrupted politicians and increase significantly the risk of corruption.
The best type of EU funding up to this moment were the small to medium ( under 500.000 EUR) EC administered institutional grants. Those grants allow organisations to exist and decide themselves about the priorities they will follow. Such grants are very much needed at the national level and will be discussed in a future paper.
- Incentives for fake reporting, yes-organisations/people, sugar-coating and conformity
EU funding for Roma Social Inclusion is delivered through one of the most complicated and deep bureaucracies. There is a Commissioner responsible for Roma issues, at least one director general, a good number of directors, deputy directors and heads of units and tens of bureaucrats in different units of the European Commission that are responsible for Roma projects financed by the EU. At the national level there is a minister, a number of secretaries of states, directors of Management Authorities (MAs) and bureaucrats working for the MAs.
Those who implement the projects need to go through most if not all the different structures in order to report significant problems. It is absolutely normal that those problems will be sugar coated by each of the layers of the bureaucracies (at least five) in order to make them look good. The end result is an overwhelmingly positive but mainly manufactured reality.
Bureaucratic careers everywhere are generally not built on recognizing and addressing failures of the system. When it comes to Roma issues there is significant pressure from the top bureaucracies (that are in fact politicians) to present positive outcomes of policies and funding at both the European and National levels. These incentives are the reasons of significant embellishments in the reporting of EU funded projects. Sometimes the embellishments lead to an overall impression that is stridently dissonant with the reality on the ground.
Conformity is unfortunately another major problems. The very diplomatic positively biased reports of the EU institutions create a culture of conformity that is to put it bluntly -scary (due to the scale). It could be seen as an accurate replication of the famous Asch experiment in conformity. The Asch experiment proved that majority pressure acts as a very powerful incentive to incredible self-deception and conformity. As leading figures at the government and EU level require positive results it is just normal that there is a strong pressure on bureaucrats and NGOs to sugar coat results.
Fake- reporting is just the next step. The Orwellian doublespeak language used in the EU official reports together with the previous explained incentives for positive results lead to a widely spread practice of writing and accepting fake-reporting.
Yes – people and organisations have much more to gain than their counterparts.
People that work at the grassroots level have very little reasons to be positive considering the situation of Roma. Their criticism is counterproductive for their own organisations as reports of failures need to be investigated, produce financial penalties and disturb the comfort zones of bureaucracies. Existing incentives are against criticism or recognizing failures.
Innovative approaches despite being very much encouraged at the level of rhetoric are in fact disliked and discouraged. Most of the times social innovation does not fit the existing rules, legislation, standards, structures and institutions. Moreover and equally important it doesn’t fit much and generally at all the lines of funding therefore social innovators end up exposing themselves to higher risks and forced to work on or with much less money that people and organisations ready to accept the existing rules and hierarchies.
These yes-people and organisations are in fact in the overwhelming majority rewarded socially and financially (as they will continue to access the EU funds and receive praise for their work at the highest levels) – it is just exceptional when a critical and innovative individual or organization manages to get recognition.
Changing the existing flawed paradigm requires significant effort and is a serious discomfort for the existing bureaucratic systems. Roma Social Inclusion needs innovation, flexibility and fast reactions – none of these are in reality either encouraged or possible through EU Structural Funds.
- The need for simplistic and miraculous stories
Simple, cheap, amazingly efficient and up-scalable projects are exceptional in general and highly improbable in the existing conditions of the EU funding. Most of the times the stories of such amazing projects are nothing but heavily embellished or altogether imagined stories.
Not having clear or any proof that a project does good or bad (which is the case for most of the EU Roma financed projects) should be a major concern if wanting to make EU funds more efficient. As finding such proofs requires serious evaluations that would most probably produce embarrassing results for the people that designed and approved the projects – they are highly unlikely. Nice and well sugar-coated fairy-tales are the preferred choice despite their well known toxicity on long term.
The European Commission risks to make the exact same mistakes as the Communist countries where similar incentives lead to reported achievements that had very remote and rarely logical links with reality.
Superficiality of some of the top bureaucrats and Commissioners that require short bullet points solution for everything including the Roma social inclusion is also a mistake remindful of Communist times. The fact that this practice is encouraged rather than criticized should be another reason for trying to avoid catastrophic mistakes of ex-Communist bureaucracies.
Things can change. There are many bureaucrats in Brussels that see most of the things the same way I do. The fact that leadership both at the EU and National Level is more inept than brilliant should not be a stimulus for conformity but rather a stimulus for change.
European Institutions should be mindful of castrating courage, innovation and initiative of its own smart and hard-working human resources (this is indeed the case with a good number of bureaucrats in Brussels). Responsible Commissioners and Director Generals need, at least in the case of Roma social inclusion, to understand that arrogance, encouraging subordinates to pay lip-service, be yes-persons and sugar-coat realities including praising ineptitude are what many perceive to be main characteristics of senior management within the European Commission.
 There were no national Roma NGOs before EU Funds to be available to administer more than 500.000 EUR and 99% of Roma NGOs worked with budges under 75.000 EUR. Nowadays there are tens of Roma organisations administering budgets of millions while there were no major ( if any)improvements in their managerial and administrative capacities
 This was explained to the author by the Romanian Minister of European Affairs Ludovic Orban