Solutions I

Incentives to stimulate NGOs and governments to effectively address social inclusion

Better employment strategies

Before we can even start to look at incentives, we need to consider the people responsible for setting up incentives. While the most effective incentives differ from case to case, many of the basic requirements for those in charge of finding incentives are the same: hands-on and academic experience, a high level of trust within the targeted communities, empathy, and great communication skills. Other essential skills are the ability to adapt and respond quickly to rising challenges, critical thinking, and the ability to accept and learn from inherent failures.

This list of qualities does not describe well most of the senior manager bureaucrats in charge of designing policies for the social inclusion of Roma within the intergovernmental institutions (IGOs) or National Governments. Sadly, few leading personalities from civil society, or political elites fit the above description either.

In fact, the skills and qualifications of people dealing with social inclusion of Roma at the top level within the main relevant intergovernmental organisations – the European Commission (EC), the Council of Europe (CoE), and the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) – is an embarrassment. Other IGOs (UN, World Bank and OSCE) dealing with Roma are not doing much better.

An obvious step to address this situation is to improve employment strategies with the aim of getting better skilled people in key decision-making jobs. This means clear job descriptions for the bureaucrats working on Roma issues, and the requirement that these people produce practical and realistic action plans.

All the above-mentioned institutions have actually made similar recommendations; they were presented as solutions to be implemented by the Eastern and Central European Member States with a high percentage of Roma populations. The fact that Western European states historically have had some of the most racist policies against Roma, as they tried to prevent Roma from settling in their countries, was overlooked. Some of the worst abuses of human rights of Roma in recent years were recorded in Western European countries.

All these institutions (EC, CoE, FRA) are led (on Roma issues) by Western Europeans with zero legitimacy to deal with Roma. Paternalism, hypocrisy, arrogance and incompetence seem to be as well-rooted in the institutional culture of IGOs, as is structural racism against Roma.

In short, my first recommendation is an employment policy that ensures the best people will be in the right decision-making positions. As well as addressing Roma social inclusion, such a policy may save the IGOs major future embarrassments. In the case of the European Union, at the least, the nomination of the very visible Commissioner responsible for Roma issues needs to be based on some minimal standards of professionalism, besides being media savvy (for more info read the ‘Queen of Gypsies’).

Grant structure and oversight

Let’s consider incentive for NGOs. What about replacing the immensely wasteful and poorly designed European Structural Funds for Roma with many small, medium, and long-term institutional grant competitions for NGOs. The basic requirements for such NGOs should be that they do grassroots work, stimulate community involvement, and address some of the main problems faced by the he most difficult and socially excluded communities.

Separate grants should be allocated for national watch-dog NGOs and for an independent EU think tank focused on Roma issues.

Technical assistance should be available for governments to help them implement their National Roma Inclusion Strategies.

Design and administration of such grants should be supervised by an independent professional body staffed by experts with real hands-on and academic experience on the issues. We might call this body the ‘European Agency for Social Inclusion and Innovation’ (to satisfy the EU’s insatiable need for Orwellian institution names). The agency should be based in a country with a significant Roma population, such as Romania, and should also be in charge of assessing and monitoring the EU Roma Social Inclusion Framework.

The agency should supervise a number of national expert teams, employed by the European Commission’s Representations in the National Member States. These teams should be tasked to ensure the efficient and transparent use of public European money dedicated for social inclusion, and would also reduce unnecessary international travel, accommodation, and per-diem costs (helping to avoid some of the problems that make the FRA almost irrelevant in tackling discrimination and exclusion at the EU level).

This approach has some immediate advantages:

  • NGO work will become more effective as they will not need to waste time and effort in imagining ways to contort in order to fit calls for projects designed by people that have no idea about the realities at the grassroots level.
  • Much less money will be wasted on consultancies specialized in writing projects and charging huge fees for success.
  • Corruption due to the poor design of Structural Funds and political interference at the Member States level will be prevented.
  • More Roma will be employed in long-term professional positions, stimulating the development of a professional Roma middle class that could be fundamental in the long-term success of social inclusion.
  • Expertise on Roma issues at both the European and National level will be expanded and improved.
  • EU institutions will become more accountable and efficient.

Independent evaluation

A periodical independent evaluation of the activities of the IGOs in regard to Roma issues, in particular the European Commission and the FRA, is essential, considering the strident discrepancy between rhetoric, money spent, and results.

In the short term, this evaluation will inevitably weaken both the Commission and the FRA, as it will probably show what most experts already know but do not dare to say: that the existing senior management is unable to deal with the task at hand. Indeed, it will most likely be a serious embarrassment for both institutions. However, this is the only way to end the waste of public money. In the long term, the bureaucrats will be forced to become more accountable and efficient in their work.

The EC and FRA must make transparent all the relevant information – money spent on contracts, salaries, per-diems, meetings, full transparency of the decision-making process – together with a regular assessment of the performance of responsible people based on the ratio between action plans and results. Such measures are, after all, considered the basics of good governance preached by these institutions to the Member States.

An independent group of experts supervised by the European Parliament could conduct this evaluation, as an independent critical think tank tasked to examine the activity of the EC and FRA on Roma (such think tanks exist for many other topics). The current culture of self-praise, paid-praise, censorship of critical voices, and use of diluted and ambiguous language to mask obvious failure make it unlikely that these institutions will recognize their failures and reform themselves without external pressure.

Stimulate the Member States to do their work properly

Once the EC and FRA reform themselves, they will have the legitimacy to push for similar reform of the Member States. The EU should support strong, independent, national think tanks to asses and monitor the way the Member States design, budget and implement their national strategies of social inclusion.

Employment in government decision-making position on social inclusion should be based on merit rather than political connections.

In the case of Romania, a 2% quota for Roma in public positions and public contracts, would be an effective way to stimulate active citizenship within Roma groups and reduce anti-Gypsyism in the long term. This employment should be based on merit rather than position or connections, in order to stimulate Roma responsibility towards their citizenship.

Such initiatives exist in some member states and have proved essential in achieving equality for other excluded minorities. The case of the Netherland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is one of the most notable.


  1. I have studied and lived with a Roma vitsa in the US for thirty years and still hold on to those connections. The people are not discriminated against here, but they still seem unable to grasp that education is entry into the middle class and, despite their beliefs that they are now „going American,” they haven’t really found their path.
    I empathize with your good efforts, Valeriu, and wish you the best.
    Carol Miller, author of Lola’s Luck, and Church of Cheese.

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