Why Europe's Roma Matter

The World Bank, the Open Society Institute, and the European Commission are co-sponsoring a conference, Roma in an Expanding Europe: Challenges for the Future, from June 30-July 1 in Budapest, with the Government of Hungary as host. Here, the President of the World Bank and the Chairman of the OSI discuss the problems that must be addressed.

Too often in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, Roma teens and children spend their days at the garbage dump. Unable to afford school, they scavenge for paper and other scraps for recycling, earning just enough to eat. Too often Roma families live in tiny cramped wooden or tin shacks with no power or running water and dim prospects for the future. A similar picture, though on a smaller scale, exists in many European Union member countries that are home to Roma minorities.

A wide socioeconomic disparity exists between Europe's majority population and Roma, or "Gypsies", many of whom live in extreme poverty. Left unchanged, this persistent poverty threatens to become a permanent drag on European prosperity, which would be a tragedy for Roma and non-Roma alike.

The situation of the 7-9 million Roma living on the continent deserves the urgent attention of government leaders as they shape the policies of an enlarged EU. Roma are the continent's fastest growing and most vulnerable minority. Boosting their prospects will be crucial to sustained prosperity on the continent, and will require implementing inclusive policies to ensure that Roma enjoy the post-transition benefits of open, free-market economies.