Roma integration: Reding wants quantified targets
By Nathalie Vandystadt | Wednesday 23 May 2012
Twenty-six EU member states (there are no Roma in Malta) have responded to the call made by Viviane Reding, the commissioner for justice, by sending her – within deadline – their national Roma integration strategies. Nevertheless, there is certain lack of precision to it all.
The exercise is a purely voluntary one on the member states’ part. However, following the controversy around the expulsion of Roma of Romanian and Bulgarian origin in France during the summer of 2010, there was a certain political urgency to do so. Out of the strategies as a whole – they focus on four priority areas: education, housing, work and access to health care – “there are good examples,” Reding told MEPs, on 23 May, in the margins of their plenary session in Strasbourg.
Reding’s report cites, among others, Slovenia, which is using Roma assistants and mediators and is trying to integrate Roma children in the education process as early as possible. Spain has drawn up programmes to prevent children from dropping out of school early and to prevent absenteeism. Spain is also proposing to increase the employment rate of the Roma population from 44% in 2011 to 50% in 2015 and 60% in 2020. Austria is encouraging the access to the market of young Roma via individual follow-up and training at local level. Hungary aims to train 2,000 Roma women with the help of the European Social Fund. As for Ireland, it has put in place a series of health services aimed at Roma. Several French local authorities have set up ‘insertion cities’ particularly aimed at addressing the needs of Roma living in illegal camps. The European regional Development Fund (ERDF) will help other French local authorities finance similar projects.
But there are also a lot of gray areas. In terms of access to housing, which the Roma are in great need of, only a few member states are considering specific measures to promote non-discriminatory access. Further, only a few member states, such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Italy and Sweden, are committing on access to housing, namely social housing. The Commission has essentially said that given the importance of local intervention in solving housing problems, the member states have to do better – via actions by local authorities and territorial investments financed by the various EU Structural Funds.
The member states are in need of an agenda and financial plans. Indeed, Reding stressed that only 12 member states clearly identified funds to allocate to their actions and outlined specific amounts for their Roma inclusion policies. Paradoxically, it was mainly the poorer countries, such as Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, that submitted figures to the Commission. France has not done so, nor have Ireland, Cyprus, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland or the UK. Reding said that it seemed that allocating funds to the Roma is not politically opportune. Yet, she recalled, the World Bank itself has said that the full integration of Roma could provide some member states with up to half a billion euro a year through increased productivity, reduced public spending and increased tax resources.
From now on, the Commission will publish an assessment of this type every year.
On the same day, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) published a study of 11 member states in which the vast majority of the EU’s Roma citizens lives. According to this study, 80% of the Roma respondents live in a household threatened by poverty, less than a third are in paid employment and only 15% have finished secondary school – compared with 70% in the non-Roma population. The housing of 45% of the Roma respondents lacks a kitchen, toilet or an individual bathroom or electricity. Around half of the Roma respondents said that they were the victims of discrimination linked to their ethnic background in the last year.