Happy New Year, Debaters of Europe! We’ve looked at hundreds of topics over the last year, but with the May 2014 European Parliament elections now almost upon us, there are still plenty of issues that we want to discuss. For example, you may not realise it, but we have almost reached the end of the “Decade of Roma Inclusion”, which began in 2005 and will run until 2015. In the run-up to the European elections, how would you rate the progress made?
Twelve European governments (each with large Roma minorities) have committed to focusing more on eliminating discrimination against Roma and closing the gap in living conditions between Roma and the rest of society. We would like to hear your thoughts on this issue and what you think the role of the European Union should be (or should not be) in fighting for greater Roma inclusion in Member States.
There are around 6 million Roma in the European Union, forming the EU’s largest ethnic minority group. We use the term “Roma” for different groups of people, including Ashkali, Sinti, Gypsies, Travelllers, Manouches and others. Now mainly living in Romania, Bulgaria, Spain and the Balkans, they share a history of severe persecution from the Middle Ages to the Second World War. As a result of ongoing social exclusion, discrimination and intolerance, they continue to live in very poor socio-economic conditions (so much so that the average age among Roma is 25, compared to an average age of 40 across the whole of the EU).
The EU and its Member States have repeatedly committed themselves publicly to improving matters. Last month, the 28 EU Member States agreed to create the first ever legal instrument to facilitate Roma inclusion within the EU. Apart from facilitating access to healthcare, housing, education and employment, European governments have also committed to raise awareness among local Roma communities of the importance of integration. The European Parliament is expected to approve these recommendations in the beginning of this year.
However, despite all these efforts, voices representing the Roma community are saying that, so far, measures have not been effective and that there is “little cause for optimism”. According to the European Roma Rights Centre, Roma communities are increasingly facing discrimination, hate speech and anti-Roma violence, and many Member States have not taken sufficient action in response. Indeed, in 2010 (marking the midpoint of the “Decade of Roma Inclusion”) the French government introduced a policy aimed at the deportation of Roma people which resulted in the transportation of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma in exchange for small cash payments. Despite being fiercly criticised by human rights groups, last summer Amnesty International reported that more than 10,000 Roma were evicted by force from their houses, with the government failing to provide any alternative housing for most of them.
What are the main challenges for Roma inclusion and what can the EU do about it? Do you think the EU should be able to punish Member States for taking insufficient action towards greater Roma inclusion? Or should the EU not interfere too much in a national issue? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.
IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Sima Dimitric