Two young Roma gypsies in Neamt County, Romania. Flickr/AdyM. Some rights reserved.For most politicians and bureaucrats, social inclusion of Roma is a terrifying and complex issue impossible to solve during their short terms in office. Despite a few years of small efforts, and decades of very strong but mainly empty rhetoric, Roma remain the most discriminated-against ethnic group in Europe and the most unrepresented within the decision-making structures. Due to a chronic lack of expertise among senior management at the level of governments and inter-governmental institutions, tackling the situation of Roma is seen as a professional quagmire. The needed incentives to tackle this issue - opportunity for fast, impressive results, or electoral gains - are very difficult to envision.
Paying lip-service, preserving the status quo, and avoiding controversy are, pragmatically, the best career moves for many in relevant decision-making positions. For the past two decades, most of the new appointments in high positions dealing with Roma have led to long periods of non-action followed sometimes by reinventing, rediscovery and repetition. Not rarely, catastrophic approaches disguised as positive practices in sycophantic reports make their way back on the table of the new Roma tsars. Such appointments point towards the existence of structural racism within those institutions and the very poor standards of professionalism required for occupying these positions.
Accountability for failures or lack of progress in addressing Roma social inclusion is exceptionally rare for many reasons. Disinterest, or professional inability on the part of Member States and inter-governmental institutions to create systems that can hold people and institutions accountable are the main problems. Those in charge instead develop the ability to shift or avoid responsibility. Poor civic and political involvement of Roma within the European societies results in the inability of Roma to exert sufficient, or any political or social pressure to make structures and people accountable.
The outcome is that all main stakeholders struggle to define clear and distinct responsibilities, or simply avoid them. Creating dedicated, professional, transparent and accountable institutional mechanisms focused not on producing well-wishing papers but implementing actions based on strategies might help. With explicit budgets, targets, indicators, and timeframes, such strategies could ensure the success of the EU Framework of National Roma Social Inclusion Strategies.
At the moment, the existing strategies can barely be called strategies. The existing governmental Roma structures are at best irrelevant. In some cases they are in fact detrimental to the social inclusion of Roma.
Roma politicians are, in general, an embarrassment. The Roma civil society remains small, weak in terms of influence and pressure, dependent on EU and foreign aid, opportunistic, and inexperienced in dealing with the obstacles and complexities of efficiently influencing the Member States and European agendas.
The economic crisis also has had a significant negative effect. Lack of funding radicalised or silenced much needed critical voices within the Roma civil society. International organisations started to compete with Roma civil society organisations for the available EU funding, and in most of the cases won. As a result, we saw a dramatic decline in the opportunities available for young Roma professionals. The small progress made in the previous years regarding cooperation and coordination among stakeholders was replaced by suspicion and tensions generated by the lack of money.
Long-term strategic thinking was replaced with opportunistic approaches meant to ensure survival of programmes, jobs, and organisations. Senior, well-connected people without a job or in danger of losing their jobs were appointed once again in high-level positions dealing with Roma issues, waiting for retirement or a change of fortune.
There are no easy or short-term solutions to change the situation of Roma in Europe. In fact, it will probably get worse before it starts to get better. However, we need to take some basic steps in order to avoid painful and costly crises in the future.
Not only governments, but all stakeholders need to come up with explicit Minimal Action Plans (MAPs) that can be monitored and evaluated easily and transparently. People in positions of power need to be held responsible and monitored based not on ambiguous rhetoric but clear indicators. That should include EU Commissioners, Ministers, top-level bureaucrats, and mayors, but also directors of NGOs paid from public money. The process of selection for top jobs in governments and inter-governmental institutions but also within Roma NGOs must become a lot better and fully transparent. Participation of Roma experts needs to evolve from pompous speeches and documents to every-day jobs.
The pre-accession mechanisms as well as the existing Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification for Justice brought about progress that nobody would have expected in Romania. A similar mechanism focused on Roma social inclusion, aimed to stimulate difficult and sometimes otherwise impossible decisions at the national level, might be a solution. There are enough precedents to make piloting of such a mechanism possible in countries with a significant Roma population. It would make a huge difference in the implementing countries.
Up until now, funding targeting the social inclusion of Roma failed to produce systemic and sustainable results. It is exceptional and mainly accidental when existing priorities in the strategies for Roma social inclusion match the available funding priorities. It is even more exceptional when needs, resources (financial and human), and strategies are correlated and implemented successfully. In fact, I was unable to find even one example of such a success. One solution might be a European fund for the social inclusion of Roma based on member state contributions and administrated by the European Commission/Council of Europe and a panel of independent experts.
To improve the existing situation we need systemic change. The first steps must be accountability, effective institutional mechanisms, and reform of the way social inclusion of Roma is funded. Addressing widespread European anti-Gypsyism and the role of each of the many stakeholders in addressing the overall exclusion faced by Roma within all societal spheres in Europe are also vital issues.
The EU Platform taking place in Brussels on 16-17 March is in this regard a very pleasant surprise. It puts two fundamental topics high on the agenda: addressing anti-Gypsyism, and multi-stakeholder cooperation. Both require much better coordination, the attention and help of everybody involved. Unfortunately, without first achieving accountability, institutional mechanisms, and funding reform, progress on anti-Gypsyism and multi-stakeholder cooperation maybe prove unrealistic if not impossible.