When will the EU start taking the integration and improvement of the welfare of the biggest European minority seriously?
The Roma community are the biggest ethnic minority living in Europe. No concrete estimate exists of their exact number due a variety of reasons, including the fact that many Romanies choose not to register their ethnic identity in official censuses. However many organisations, as well as the Council of Europe, have estimated their population to be as high as 14 million, with many residing in the Balkans and Central Europe. They continue to be marginalised, discriminated against and face exclusion from all aspects of social and economic life on a daily basis. There are louder voices of observers that call for the social and labour market integration of Roma, which is not only a moral but also an economic imperative.
A number of initiatives have been launched on an EU level, but they are largely ineffective because of the lack of a uniform political will, but even more importantly, because the EU institutions have insufficient powers to make governments implement changes quicker and more effectively on the ground. Before joining the EU candidate states need to comply and adopt specific legal and constitutional provisions that provide for the protection of the civil liberties and human rights of minorities. However once these changes are adopted there is very little being done to continue to monitor the progress for each member country. Furthermore initiatives such as the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 are not legally binding on the national level. Thus the integration of Roma remains under the sole responsibility of each member state. The only major actors that address and seek to establish a fairer environment and a more equitable society, inclusive of the Roma community, are the civil society organisations.
The issue of social inclusion of the Roma has gained even more prominence as two of the newest EU member states – Bulgaria and Romania have joined the EU, and combined together they have about 1 million Roma citizens. The long-lasting discrimination and segregation faced by Roma has created an influx of immigrants to Western European countries, which has created a variety of local and regional problems in the host states. The right conditions on the national level for their social integration, such as education, healthcare and employment, are not in place. This has created a vicious circle of poverty, unemployment, and crime that largely influences the decision of many Roma representatives to seek new opportunities for a better economic status away from their birthplace. To break this vicious cycle receiving countries should offer an equal treatment to migrants from ethnic minorities.
The Roma problem has not gone away and the lack of European borders, and the right of free movement for European citizens is likely to exacerbate the existing issues further, as Romanies migrate. There is a pressing need for EU policy-makers to place more pressure on member states because the Roma integration is not currently high on the national agenda. The European and national community has been preoccupied with the recent financial turmoil, the Euro crisis and regional aggressors and international security and peace threats.
Nevertheless if any long-lasting and durable progress is to be achieved a comprehensive, all rounded and concert approach on the local, national and EU level is necessary, which requires a long-term commitment and forward-thinking initiative-taking from all involved parties.