Demanded by France, Italy and Sweden – and supported by the Belgian presidency of the European Union - the debate on the integration of the Roma in Europe seems to be going nowhere, from Brussels' perspective. A number of weeks ago, Pierre Lellouche, French Secretary of state for European affairs, had requested an "urgent" debate on "a real problem whose time has come a real solution".
Evoking the problems of juvenile delinquency as well as the networks of prostitution and the traffic of minors facing France, Mr Lellouche has sharply criticised the influx of "people who don't want to integrate into society", the lack of responsibility on the part of the Roma's (9 million of whom hold European passports) countries of origin, and even the relative inaction on the part of the Commission in Brussels which, says the Secretary of state, is spending far too much money on integration strategies. Sweden then added its own critiques, demanding an "obligatory plan of action" that would address "an alarming situation".
Romania is the primary target
These governments are targeting certain of the Roma's countries of origin, accusing them of shirking their responsibilities. In addition to Bulgaria (with an estimated 750,000 Roma) and Slovakia (500,000), it is Romania – with an official population of 537,000 Roma, but a more realistic count of 2 million – that remains the primary target. And Romania has since promised action. While a Secretary of state for repatriated Roma has been named, Bucharest has at the same time protested against the destruction of encampments in France, also complaining about the "public blame" that it has had to endure.
The fact that Bucharest is so slow in using the European funds earmarked for aid to the Roma is also quite irritating for other member states. Six programs totalling 9.3 million euros are administered by the National Agency for the Roma, but results are hardly visible. And because of delays, certain projects may find their funding frozen. "The Commission has recommended that we terminate those programs that are not advancing, so as to not tie up the allocated funds", declares Anca Zevedei, director of the Authority for the management of human resources in the Romanian Labour ministry. "The Commission wants to help the Roma and other underprivileged groups, but just look at what is (not) happening with the projects administered by the National Agency for the Roma..." The miserable fate of this population almost invariably seems to make emigration a more palatable solution.
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The associations of Roma criticise Romanian authorities as much as they do the French. "Romania has not done its job", observes Ciprian Necula, who oversees the project known as " the House of the Roma". "The State has allowed networks of human traffic and prostitution to thrive, and has simply created a few programs on paper (addressing these issues) designed to please the Europeans".
"Waste" and "non-utilisation"
The situation on the ground confirms the pessimistic diagnostic regarding the waste, and even the non-utilisation of the European funds earmarked for the problem. The fact is that Romania is finding it difficult to spend the 32 billion euros of non-reimbursable funding that the Commission has reserved for the situation, funds which require proper requests and justifications for their release.
As the official arbiter of the debate on the Roma, the Commission can hardly hide its malaise. Invited by France and other countries to "act", the Commission maintains that it has created multiple initiatives that focus on integration issues as well as those dealing with non-discrimination. But "integration will only be effective with coordinated action on the part of the member states, on the national, regional and local levels", emphasizes the European official.
Some 13.3 billion euros will have been spent between 2007 and 2013, via the European social fund, for the integration of the Roma and other groups identified as "vulnerable". In Romania and Hungary, half of the aid received goes to the Roma. Money is also distributed to various countries through the Fund for rural development, and since May, member states can make use of the European fund for regional development in order to aid minorities, including the Roma, to more easily obtain housing. Other infrastructure funds allow for the co-financing of projects for pre-schoolers, education and employment. The European Parliament has also allocated 5 million euros for a pilot integration project based on micro-financing and education.
"It's not money that's lacking, just the right way to make use of it", sighs an official. As a final recourse, Brussels has now commissioned studies to identify the most successful integration programs, projects and political strategies.
Governments lead the hunt for Roma
The success of festivals dedicated to Gypsy music, such as initiatives to raise awareness of Roma culture, attest to the fascination of Europeans for the Gypsy world. Yet, in several western European countries, repressive measures against them are increasing, says the Polish magazine Przekrój.
In late July, French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke of "problems posed by the behavior of some Roma and Travellers", and advocated the expulsion of those who are strangers, while his minister of the interior launched the dismantling of nearly half a thousand illegal settlements throughout the country. In April, Germany began the removal of 12,000 Roma in Kosovo, while Denmark expelled 400 others who "violated the public sense of security" of their neighbors. In early July, the Flemish government transferred several Roma camps close to Wallonia, not to mention the measures taken in Italy since 2008 to monitor the "Roma people". For its part, the Swedish government wants to punish begging in groups by expulsion and banishment for three years, while asking the European Commission to take a position regarding the alarming situation of Roma in Europe.
On 29 July, Brussels responded that in relation to evictions of Roma member states are sovereign. This ia a way for the EU to ignore the problem, accused Amnesty International, saying some countries have "systematically anti-Roma policies. On August 12 last, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has singled out France for the "resurgence of racism" and its policy towards the Roma.
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