Roma civil society’s monitoring reports assessing new national strategies for Roma equality, inclusion, and participation are now published within the EU-wide Roma Civil Monitor initiative. The reports indicate a significant improvement of the Roma civil society’s participation in the strategies development and some improvement in the quality of the national Roma strategies’ content; however, many grave problems remain unaddressed. The strategies represent an important commitment of the EU Member States, but their impact will depend on the actual implementation.
The shadow monitoring undertaken by the coalitions of NGOs in the EU Member States assesses that the intensity and quality of Roma and NGO participation in the preparation of new National Roma Strategic Frameworks has improved compared to the past. Countries such as France, and Germany reported significant improvements, as did Slovakia or the Czechia, where Roma and NGO representatives even partially led the process of strategies’ development and definition of their objectives.
Some national strategies are responding to the European Roma Strategic Framework and addressing new areas or introducing new elements that will make the policy plans more credible and – if implemented properly – also likely have more impact.
These improvements concern the overall approach, from Roma seen as a security issue towards a problem of equality, recognition of structural racism (antigypsyism) and lack of inclusiveness of the mainstream society, institutions and public services. This shift is clearly discernible in countries like France, Italy and the Netherlands.
In many new strategies, the most serious problems that Roma face have been recognized – such as antigypsyism, segregation, and forced evictions. But only seldom are specific measures to tackle these problems presented in a credible way. Moreover, the problem of antigypsyism is usually addressed only as a partial issue of awareness-raising about Roma culture but not as a horizontal problem embodied in many crucial policies, such as social protection or employment policies which remain based on racist assumptions.
On the other hand, many grave problems remain unaddressed by the new national strategies: Social protection and poverty reduction are a priority usually only in the “old” member states (such as Greece, Spain or France), while in Central and Eastern European countries where Roma are facing the most profound poverty and welfare provisions have been significantly reduced, this problem remains conspicuously unaddressed. Official narratives, questioned by most experts, continue to perpetuate the narrowest understanding of neoliberal affirmations that education or ‘activation’ can resolve the problems of social exclusion that Roma face.
According to the coordinator of the RCM initiative Marek Hojsik, eliminating residential segregation in isolated rural settlements or urban ghettos is a conditio sine qua non for Roma inclusion in quite a few EU Member States.
“Despite the gravity of this problem, only a few countries have decided to tackle this actively (like Czechia or France). Most of the affected countries opt for mapping and analysis of segregation, or in some cases improving living conditions in segregated communities, although it could be perceived that some interventions contribute to increasing the number of Roma living in segregation.”
When it comes to the participation of Roma, in a few countries, such as Czechia, Germany or Greece, this positive experience has been followed by more systemic reforms aimed at strengthening the participation of Roma and pro-Roma civil society in structures of policy making and implementation.
The coordinator of the RCM initiative, Marek Hojsik, emphasizes that an improvement of participation without support to the civil society and strengthening their capacities is simply not possible.
“Some countries, such as Austria, Greece or the Netherlands, are planning to invest in NGOs training, international networking, and knowledge exchange. Others, Czechia, Germany, Romania or Slovakia, go even further and have committed to financially support the development of civil society organizations’ policy expertise and advocacy activities.”
The majority of the published reports also bring to attention that very few efforts focus on strengthening the participation of Romani women and youth through the establishment of special consultative/cooperation platforms, thereby supporting their civic engagement and networking, like in Austria, Czechia, Greece, Italy or Slovakia.
In general, the new national Roma strategies can be seen as ambitious and often quite progressive commitments. However, their real impact will depend on how they will be implemented. The main risks consist in the fact that important policies with an impact on Roma – such as pre-primary and primary education or housing – are in hands of local governments with little room for central governments to enforce their national strategies.
You can see the reports from the EU Member states by exploring the interactive map here.