Failing Roma, again

Roma need to become respected but also responsible citizens in their own countries. There are solutions. But none of those solutions are immediate or cheap.

Valeriu Nicolae
18 August 2012

August 7 - 9, 2010 – French authorities started once again dismantling “illegal” Roma camps. 300 Euros and free plane tickets were offered to any Romanian Roma that wanted to return to Romania.

There were a number of articles in the international press that picked up the news – mostly blaming the French authorities. A low level spokesperson of the European Commission released a statement suggesting the low level of significance these acts have for European Commission.

The new socialist French government seems to be pursuing exactly the same approach that the previous right wing French government did[1] which led to a serious clash between the Commissioner on Justice of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, and ex-president Sarkozy. Both politicians have lost significant clout during the scandal and Commissioner Reding has been very careful since then to be too vocal against France. Her survival in the Commission without French support is rather improbable as she is already on her third term as a Commissioner. It seems both the European Commission and the French authorities have learned their lesson – Viviane Reding lets a junior spokesperson respond to inquiries while the new French president will leave the issues to the local authorities and the Ministry of Administration. Both sides probably hope that they have found an acceptable solution to solving the issues of illegal Roma camps in France without much fuss.

The problem with this approach is that it cannot work. Neither the Commission nor the French government (or any EU government for that matter) seems to have much clue about what is going on. The main incentives for the governments of the countries Roma are coming from as well as for the Roma themselves encourage migration to the west, not the inclusion within their own societies which is needed.

Here are some of the things that neither politicians in France, eastern Europe or bureaucrats in Brussels know or will dare to say:

  1. Ghettoes in Romania and Bulgaria are a lot worst than any illegal camp in western Europe. The number of people living in these ghettoes is increasing. So is the number of drug addicts, people with HIV, criminals and the destitute
  2. Work, begging, prostitution or petty criminality pays a lot better - sometimes 20 to 30 times better - in western Europe than in any of the places the Roma are coming from.
  3. Social services for migrating Roma are much better in illegal camps in France than services available for Romanian, Hungarian, Slovak or Bulgarian citizens living in ghettoes.
  4. Sentences for petty crimes and prison conditions in eastern Europe make prisons in France, Italy and the UK look almost like a holiday home
  5. Paying 300 EUR for repatriation and giving free plane tickets for repatriation is a huge waste of public money and a significant incentive for more migration. A family of 5 (average Roma family that migrates to France) will get 1500 EUR for going back to Romania. The cost of a bus ticket back to France is around 40 EUR per person – 200 EUR at maximum for the entire family. That means a net gain of 1300 EUR – more than the average income for a year of a similar family in the ghetto.
  6. Most of the eastern European member states have significant incentives to get rid of the Roma - governments in Bucharest, Sofia, Budapest, Bratislava or Prague have no incentive whatsoever to stop the migration of Roma. Roma are by far the most hated ethnic minority in eastern Europe – the majority populations are very happy to vote for any anti-Roma politician. In Romania one can witness thousands of people chanting for the death of Roma at football games. Ethnic dumping, which will see Roma leave their countries, seems to be a much better solution than social inclusion for most of the national politicians in eastern Europe.
  7. The worst institutional racism can be seen within the European institutions when it comes to Roma[1]. Lack of hands-on or even academic experience in dealing with Roma inclusion at the level of the European institutions is appalling – some of the worst are the European Commission and the Fundamental Rights Agency – the main organisations charged with the social inclusion of Roma at the European level. This translates into a complete lack of legitimacy of those institutions in the task of recommending measures for their social inclusion in EU member states, especially when it comes to affirmative action.
  8.  The proportion of Roma politicians in mainstream parties or governments is abysmal. So is the presence of Roma experts or bureaucrats in relevant decision-making positions.
  9. Since 1984 there is some recognition that Roma are discriminated against and excluded – but European member states have failed dramatically to do anything substantial to even stop the increasing exclusionary trend. The existing situation is the direct result of decades of non-action or inept policies designed by well-meaning people with no experience whatsoever of Roma issues.

There are solutions. But none of those solutions are immediate or cheap. Roma need to become respected but also responsible citizens in their own countries. That cannot happen just with great speeches in Brussels or expensive conferences at 5 star hotels in capital cities in eastern Europe.

Strenuous efforts should be channelled into working at the grassroots to help Roma become responsible active citizens and eliminate anti-Gypsyism, with incentives for mainstream parties, governments and EU institutions to empower Roma, and with some attempt to ensure even a minimal representation of Roma at decision-making level both at the national and European level.


A short version of this piece has appeared in EuropeanVoice


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