On structural racism and Fundamental Rights Agency

A few weeks ago I was asked to participate in a survey for the Fundamental Rights Agency. Then they asked me again and again. I decided to reply to the evaluator and include the ad-interim chair of the FRA board in my reply.


Dear Karin Attstrom  and Maija Sakslin

After some serious consideration I decided I should reply to your email. I decided sometime ago  that I will not participate to any of the FRA Agency meetings and ignore anything that comes from the FRA. I very much doubt that any of the things I write here or I will say to you will matter at all. I will be happy if you want to share this with the entire board of FRA ( representatives of the EC included) and with the management and staff. I spend most of my time working in a very rough ghetto in Bucharest. I lost most of my diplomatic skills and I do not plan to change that anytime soon. If you do share what I write here with the boards then I will take part in the interview, otherwise I am happy to continue ignoring what FRA does.
In 2004 as a representative of the ERIO I worked on a position on the role of the FRA ( you can find it here http://ec.europa.eu/justice/news/consulting_public/0011/contributions/contribution_erio_en.pdf ) . The most important points we made are still very much needed 8 years later.
I repeatedly said to the director and staff that 5 star hotels meetings on Roma are at least a waste of money and if FRA wants to have an impact should organise their meetings in the places where Roma live – not many of the discriminated Roma do leave at Hilton or Intercontinental.
I believe that the consultations as they are done by FRA at this moment are rather useless. People in the boards are sent there not for their hands on experience or critical views but for their diplomatic success. That is built on connections and political support.
My opinion about the FRA and Roma are public. FRA is probably the worst example of institutional racism when it comes to Roma. It organises and produces very expensive  research on Roma issues – produces lots and lots of hot air about Roma inclusion and affirmative actions while it has done nothing concrete at all and failed dramatically to attract within the Agency any experts with hands on expertise on Roma and employs zero Roma. Within all the boards there is just one Roma person and none of the scientific advisory board is known for his/her research or activity on Roma ( this is while a significant percentage of the research and event organising budget of the FRA went towards Roma related things)
Some of my opinion and the links to the articles here – 
Open Democracy

Neither the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, nor the Council of Europe European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) employ any Roma, according to their human resources departments[3], despite the fact that they spend a significant, sometimes a majority, of their yearly research budgets on Roma-related issues. The same watchdogs have argued numerous times in the past for affirmative action to bring Roma within institutions relevant for their social inclusion.

Failure is a bitter pill to swallow. But we all need to recognize failure in order to improve. Otherwise, the situation on the ground will only get worse, while the rhetoric becomes more and more empty.

The hardest thing to accept may be that most of the money spent in Europe on Roma issues is spent on bureaucratic administration (mostly for non-Roma human resources) and expensive meetings held in four or five-stars hotels in capitals all around Europe. None of the Roma suffering from social exclusion live there.


7. When it comes to Roma, institutional racism – translated as a lack of significant access and participation to an institution – is at its worst in the European institutions. The lack of hands-on or even academic experience in dealing with Roma inclusion at the level of the European institutions is appalling. Some of the worst examples are the European Commission and Fundamental Rights Agency, the main organisations in charge with social inclusion of Roma at the European level. This strips the institutions of legitimacy when they make recommendations to member states about measures for the social inclusion of Roma, particularly when they refer to affirmative action.

8. The presence of Roma politicians in mainstream parties or governments is abysmal. So is the presence of Roma experts or officials in decision-making positions.

9. Since 1984, it has been recognised that Roma are discriminated against and excluded. But EU member states have failed dramatically to do anything substantial even to stop the trend toward increasing exclusion. The current situation is the direct result of decades of inaction or inept policies designed by well-meaning people with no experience in Roma issues.

Also in their paper version the European Voice published this http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/imported/extraordinary-indeed-/74012.aspx  – it gives a stark example of how institutional racism works ( the FRA director is part of the example)

Eurozine – an interview with me at a conference where I was a speaker as it was also the president of the FRA – http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2011-12-05-nicolae-en.html 
The Fundamental Rights Agency – the watchdog organization of the European Union – receives annually over 20 million euros. Over half of this budget goes on staff expenditure. In recent years it has released a number of studies on Roma (on racism, discrimination, women’s issues, violence) and a significant amount of resources has been directed towards Roma-related activities. Its director has been very clear about both the need for positive measures to help a better representation of Roma. The FRA employs around 80 people. It has an executive board of 7 and a scientific committee of 11. Not one of them is Roma. Among the 62 people in the ceremonial management board of the FRA, there is one Roma, appointed by the Slovak government. 

These institutions call for others – be they national governments, local administrations or businesses – to demonstrate strategies that involve Roma in decision-making. Yet they themselves have no plans to attract Roma human resources or experts on Roma issues. At the national level it is the same: you have lots of people who, while not incompetent, have no practical experience with the Roma and who design the wrong kind of strategies without having an idea about what it’s all about. 

Response to the UNDP regarding the monitoring of the National Roma Strategies by FRA – http://europeandcis.undp.org/blog/2012/05/31/roma-strategies-time-to-put-them-into-action
The monitoring through the fundamental rights agency is ridiculous. FRA has tons of other things to do and has no expertise within on Roma. There is ONE employee that has some exposure to Roma issues but she does another 10 things at the same time. How on earth would the FRA that let’s pretend very optimistically will dedicate a full 4 -5 people ( with no expertise as I wrote before) could monitor the strategies of 26 Member States ?Only to go an see what happens for real in the 26 Member States will take one at the very minimum a 78 working days per year ( and that only if she/he visits the capital and one other city outside of the capital…). EU institutions and UNDP has been very productive in producing paper and hot words but I expect at one moment the same institutions will start to be realistic about what is going on . To monitor one EU project in Romania requires the work of 3-4 people for 10 days – and we somehow believe that all the strategies for 10 million people all around Europe could be monitor by a similar team that sits in Vienna and has no expertise whatsoever besides reading all kind of copy and paste reports sent by governments or people that have very limited experience in producing reports that make sense.
We do not have the EU mechanisms or the national mechanisms to implement Roma strategies. What happens at this moment is a great word-producing industry that does nothing but frustrates even more everybody around. As long as decisions about Roma at the EU level continue to be taken by people that has nothing to do with Roma whatsoever and Commissioner Reding is a very stark example of such a person we will continue to go backwards in the social inclusion and very much forward with the empty and useless rhetoric.

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