Jelena Jovanovic and Christine Sudbrock

Will the EU include Roma in the so-called ‘Union that protects, empowers and defends’?

Flickr/paulusthebrit/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Recently, for the first time, Members of National Parliaments together with Members of the European Parliament discussed the fundamental rights of Roma and fighting antigypsyism in an Inter-parliamentary Committee Meeting. Just a week later, the European Parliament adopted a resolution concerning the increasing normalization of fascism, racism and xenophobia, calling the EU member states to ban neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups. This is a welcome sign of good will in times of increasing discrimination, hate crime and hate speech against Roma by the far right and the mainstream, but action now needs to follow to effectively address antigypsyism across the EU.

Approximately 12 Million Roma are European citizens, and according to the Fundamental Rights Agency, 80% of them are at risk of poverty. 72 % of young Roma women are not in employment, education and training, the general unemployment rate among Roma is above 50%.  One in three Roma report that they already have been victims of harassment and 20% of non-Roma would not like to have a Roma colleague. In some EU member states, this number reaches almost 50%.

The Alliance against Antigypsyism defines antigypsyism as a specific form of racism against people who are perceived as gypsies. It is today the most widespread and socially accepted form of racism and is the basis of the social exclusion and poverty of Roma people. It manifests itself in education, employment, health, housing, media, public and political narratives. Moreover, antigypsyism finds its expression in a series of hate crimes. These crimes are hardly followed up, their racist character is often ignored, antigypsyism as a bias motivation has not been recognized, and they meet little outrage by the majority society.

It is sufficient to look back into the past few months for just some examples of antigypsyism:

A 13-year old Roma girl in Amfissa, Central Greece was shot by a local businessman on June 4, 2018. The man drove by the Roma camp and fired with a shotgun at the inhabitants, killing the young girl.

In July 2018 a 21-year old Romani man was beaten up by skinheads in a pub in Žilina, Slovakia. The skinheads were screaming “We will kill you, gypsy scum”. According to the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), a policewoman who came with the ambulance said: “The town center is not for gypsies, but for whites.”

In September 2018, Matteo Salvini, Minister of the Interior of Italy, asked for a census of Roma and regretted that he could not just kick them all out of the country.

Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, told Rai News in October 2018 that the Italian government’s plan for a citizenship income “will end up in the pockets of Roma, of foreign citizens — from the EU and non-EU — and certainly not in those of many Italian citizens.”

This list does not include the persistent cases of segregation of Romani children in education, or the evictions of Roma from their houses; in France more than 10,000 Roma have been evicted since 2014 according to an OHCHR report.

Civil society monitoring of Roma inclusion policies in the Roma Civil Monitor project shows that stakeholders recognize the phenomenon to a very different extent and understand it in very different ways, and still many actors – particularly on national level – do not understand and recognize it at all. This leads consequently to a lack of institutional structures and capacities to properly counter antigypsyism.

The lack of explicit recognition makes it furthermore impossible to develop specific indicators and to commit resources to fight antigypsyism. It also results in institutions’ inability to properly monitor acts of antigypsyism and evaluate the impact of relevant policies.

The European Commission entitled its proposal for the next EU Multi-Annual Financial Framework a budget for a ‘Union that protects, empowers and defends’ its citizens. It is now time for the European institutions to prove that they mean what they say by dedicating sufficient resources to combatting antigypsyism through a strong renewed EU Roma Framework that has the fight against antigypsyism at its core. Addressing the social policy areas of employment, education, housing and health is crucial, but will not be enough to end Roma exclusion when racism towards Roma remains completely unchallenged.

The renewed framework for the period 2020-2027 should include specific measures to respond to antigypsyism and all its manifestations as well as focus on antigypsyism as a horizontal priority. The EU should furthermore follow MEP Soraya Post’s recommendations to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Antigypsyism at the EU level and the level of Member States.

While the work at the EU level is already going into a good direction, it is meaningless if national authorities do not commit. Member States and the enlargement region countries should strengthen the recognition of antigypsyism as a specific form of racism against Roma through their Roma-specific measures, the law and relevant mainstream state policies, especially in the fields of social inclusion, education, employment, health, housing, equal treatment and anti-discrimination, citizenship and youth. This also requires regular monitoring and setting up of institutions to protect Roma rights. Finally, Member States must also commit funds so that the fight against antigypsyism does not remain a paper reality.

With the Race Equality Directive, the Victims’ Rights Directive, the Employment Equality Directive, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Articles 2 (rights of minorities) and 10 (combatting discrimination) of the Treaty of the European Union, a strong legal basis exists for the EU and its Member States to combat antigypsyism. The next MFF is the chance for policy-makers to give more substance to these commitments and to do everything in their power to make sure that steps are being made on the way to a truly racism-free society.

The European Roma Grassroots Organisations (ERGO) Network brings together 26 (pro) Roma grassroots organisations from across Europe to empower communities, fight antigypsyism and achieve equal citizenship.

Jelena Jovanović obtained a Master degree in Serbian Language and Literature at the University of Novi Sad (Serbia) and a double diploma from a joint Gender Studies master program of Central European University (Hungary) and University of Hull (UK). She is currently working as Policy and Research Coordinator for the European Roma Grassroots Organisations (ERGO) Network, where she is leading the ERGO Network’s work on fighting antigypsyism.

Christine Sudbrock obtained a Masters Degree in Political Science at the University of Tubingen. She is currently working as Programme and Communications Manager for the European Roma Grassroots Organisations (ERGO) Network, where she is responsible for ERGO’s work programme ‘Roma Included in Social Europe’ (RISE) and the implementation of ERGO’s communications strategy.


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