The situation of the Roma is “grim” and “shocking”, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency concludes in a report that finds common patterns of poverty, under-education, poor housing and ill-health across the continent.
The FRA’s survey of 11 countries, which was conducted together with the United Nations, was released to coincide with the European Commission’s publication yesterday (23 May) of its assessment of national Roma strategies presented by the EU’s 27 member states.
This is the first time that member states have submitted Roma strategies to the Commission – a move that follows an agreement last June to adopt an ‘EU framework for national Roma integration strategies’.
The scale of the challenge is indicated in the FRA/UN study, which found that only 15% of young Roma have completed upper-secondary general or vocational education, less than 30% are in paid employment, and nearly one in two live in a home that lacks either electricity or a basic amenity, such as a toilet. At least eight in ten are at risk of poverty, with the highest rates reported in France, Italy and Portugal, whose combined Roma population may number 600,000. The Commission estimates Europe’s Roma population at 10-12 million.
This is the largest survey yet conducted of Roma in France, Italy and Portugal. The other eight countries were Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
The Commission does not provide an overall assessment of each national strategy, but its itemisation of weaknesses in the plans suggests that member states will struggle to make advances in the areas of focus: education, work, health and housing.
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The Commission’s appraisal of the strategy outlined by Italy – the western European country whose Roma population appears to face the most difficulties – finds that its education goals are “ambitious” and “realistic”. However, its employment and health plans are vague in terms of targets, funding and timelines, and its overall approach is weakened by under-developed monitoring and funding proposals.
The Commission says that Romania, which has the largest Roma population, has some “welcome” ideas on health, but its strategy is otherwise characterised by a lack of integration, planning, prioritisation and ambition.
Though the Commission’s communication is “carefully nuanced, leavened with faint praise and a smattering of ‘good practice examples’, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Commission’s verdict on the strategies is fairly damning”, said Bernard Rorke of the Open Society Foundation, whose founder, George Soros, is the principal philanthropic supporter of the Roma.
Morten Kjaerum, the FRA’s director, said that the results of his agency’s survey are “shocking in many respects” and that “the similarity of exclusion patterns across EU member states is striking”.
Common motifs also emerge from the national plans. Only a few states set out how much they will spend and, in the Commission’s view, they under-use EU funds and monitor developments too little.