Robbing the Roma

BUDAPEST – A year and a half has passed since the European Commission adopted the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020, which calls upon European Union governments to create comprehensive plans aimed at strengthening social inclusion and improving the well-being of their Romani citizens. The European Council endorsed the framework soon after. But, despite good intentions, little has changed.

In fact, the Roma’s suffering has increased as a result of the euro crisis, and intolerance has intensified, especially in the countries with the largest Romani populations – Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Greece. Despite the European Commission’s call for member states to apply more EU funds to programs aimed at integrating Roma before the close of the 2007-2013 EU budget period, none of these six countries has done so. Some of them – such as Bulgaria and Romania – are among the most laggard spenders of EU funds, particularly resources from the European Social Fund.

For example, Romania has received €4.5 billion ($5.9 billion) from the ESF. But the estimated 1.8 million Roma in the country – who struggle with pervasive unemployment, poor living conditions, low life expectancy, and low rates of school attendance – have benefited very little from these funds. Indeed, in the sixth year of the current seven-year budget cycle, less than 10% of the funds have been used, and only a fraction of that for Roma.

The little that was set aside for Roma is now in jeopardy, given that the EU has suspended its ESF reimbursements to the Romanian government, owing to procedural shortcomings. As a result, the government is not reimbursing NGOs that are trying to implement programs aimed at helping Roma.