On Commission’s speeches and solutions

2004- “Yet the social exclusion and discrimination of Roma communities are well documented and despite all available legislative and financial instruments remain often extreme… it is an urgent issue that also demands a response from the European Union.”

European Commission represented by the Director General Odile Quintan of the DG Employment and Social Affairs

 April 8, 2010 “…I don’t believe we should waste energy in developing special laws or funds for Roma. Existing legislation and available funds are there to deal with the challenges.” 

European Commission represented by the newly appointed in charge of Roma issues Commissioner and  Vice-President of the Commission Viviane Reding

 The European legislation concerning social inclusion of Roma in 2004 remain the same legislation in 2010. European financial instruments are still completely inefficient in changing the existing exclusion. There is just one relevant change in the regulation of Structural Funds an initiative lead by one of the most committed bureaucrats. She left the Commission frustrated with the lack of effectiveness and the abundance of bureaucratic obstacles.

April 4, 2011-“Now is the time to change good intentions into more concrete actions.”

May 23, 2012- “It is time to translate ambitions into actions … We are now strong enough to meet the challenges and find solutions.”

Vice-President Viviane Reding

Some conclusions reading the above quotes are not very pleasing for the Commission. First it looks like the Commission tends to contradict itself and has either limited communication or institutional memory as it tends to go backwards on its own words. It also seems there is a minimum eight years from the time the Commission acknowledges an emergency till the time it gets “strong “ enough to start “finding solutions”. “Now” means at least one year for the bureaucrats of the European Commission.

There were some “informal” steps taken by the European Commission – the start of an inter-service group on Roma that proved to be far from what was needed and was supplemented with another initiative – the European Roma Platform. No formal steps were taken yet besides the fact that in 2012 a unit received an ambiguous extra task of “Roma coordination”.

During the speech from April 8, 2010 Viviane Reding made a reference to the European Roma Platform:

“The European Platform for Roma Inclusion launched a year ago has the potential to support policy-makers in the Commission and in the Member States to develop their strategic approaches and to organise such a culture of learning…We think the Spanish Presidency’s proposal to develop a concise, mid-term work programme for the Platform is a good idea.”

For many people that work with the European Commission in Brussels a Platform means a window dressing measure. The definition given by the European Commission to the Roma Platform is relevant and  quite exceptional in its ambiguity. It defines the platform as “… an open and flexible mechanism of governance organised by the European Commission … [it] aims at making existing policy processes more coherent and prepares the ground for synergies…[it] is not a formal body but rather a process driven by participants.”

Hard to understand how a mechanism of governance is not a formal body but rather a process – even harder is to work with such a thing.

Now, September, 2012 there is no follow up on the “good idea” of the Spanish Presidency.

A number of serious Roma crisis culminating with a scandal that saw the French president attacking Ms. Reding for her courageous position on Roma evictions in France forced a radical change in approach from the speech in 2010. A European Framework of National Strategies for Roma Social Inclusion became inevitable due to pressure from European Parliament, civil society and some Member States.

Progress indeed, but will mean nothing in practice without significant institutional and policy changes both at the Member States and Commission level.

In her last speech on Roma (May 23, 2012) Commissioner Reding pointed correctly to what was needed:

“Most important: while we see a lot of nice words in the national strategies, what is missing are concrete deliverables, quantified targets and clear, ambitious deadlines for action.”

Somehow she failed to notice that the Commission never delivered on the exact same things it asks the Member States. It never managed to move from nice words to concrete deliverables, quantified targets and clear, ambitious deadlines for action in the case of Roma. Fortunately it did so in some other cases including tackling gender discrimination a task outstandingly well addressed (comparatively with the Roma discrimination) by the EC and Commissioner Reding.

In the European Commission’s Decision on the Year of Equal Opportunities from 2007 Roma are described as the “most disadvantaged ethnic minority group in Europe”  that face “significant barriers in employment and education”. “Disadvantages experienced by some communities, e.g., the Roma are so wide-scale and embedded in the structure of society that positive action may be necessary to remedy the nature of their exclusion.”

European Commission has made significant progress in tackling the discrimination through significant funding stimulating positive action. Commissioner Reding is a very strong advocate on “women representation in the workforce and in top jobs”.

This summer Viviane Reding made a very strong argument for quotas for women. In her speeches she praised the example of Norway that made compulsory the presence of women in the boards of large companies. She talked numbers and deadlines. She talked about legislation. She talked about her own initiatives to boost the presence of women in leadership – the pledge for companies to increase the number of women in their boardrooms and the “Shadowing initiative”.  Some of her speeches are truly inspirational. They lack reference to women suffering multiple discrimination as it is the case of Roma women. Still, they are exceptional. The discrepancy when it comes to her Roma speeches is strident. There numbers, targets and concrete actions of the Commission or Commissioner Reding herself that abound in the women empowerment speeches are nowhere to be found in the Roma speeches.

The overwhelming majority of women in position of power in Europe are women from the majority populations and coming from families of medium to high income. That is also the situation of Commissioner Reding. There is a large consensus that Roma exclusion is far worst than women exclusion in European Union. The situation of Romani women is catastrophic when it comes to employment.

The Commissions targets gender discrimination affecting the majorities’ women in Europe far more effectively than it tackles Roma issues. The difference is much better incentives but also much better legal and institutional mechanisms.

Closing the gender gap is a major success of the European Union. It was possible due to targeted measures and significant long-term investments on behalf of the European Commission.

It can be replicated in the case of Roma discrimination too. But that means a serious effort and political will within the European Commission. It means that the existing Framework Strategy will be complemented with the minimal requirements to make it work – such as an Action Plan for Roma Inclusion, an European Institute capable to act as a much needed think thank for the very complex issues related to Roma inclusion and formal mechanisms within the European Commission.

This was the winning formula in the case of gender related discrimination. It will work in the case of Roma too. The Commission needs just to replicate what it does successfully for tackling women discrimination.

At this moment the cabinet of the Vice-President Reding employs eight more women than men. It gives Commissioner Reding legitimacy when she talks about women empowerment. Her cabinet doesn’t include anybody with any hands-on or academic experience in Roma issues. The Commission in its entirety shows worrisome signs when it comes to structural racism against Roma and other ethnic minorities.

That might suggest the Commissioner dealing with Justice and anti-discrimination an idea about some much-needed and Commission recommended positive actions. It could be quotas. It worked for women in Norway might work for European Commission in Brussels. And that might be the good example some of the Member States badly need.

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