EU Roma Week 2017: Reflections
The Second European Roma Week is now in the history. Being there for two days I could not really say much. As it usually happens on such large-scale events, the time was limited and the number of participants – huge. Thus I am exposing my personal reflection on ‘What Went Well’ (www) and ‘Even Better If’ (ebi) here. Please feel free to comment.
Roma Week: Who was there and who was not?
It always does matter who is on the table and who is not, especially when talking about Roma. This is the second European Roma Week that is ever being organised. Last year I had the opportunity to be part of the organisers of the first European Roma Week. From a comparative perspective, this year
(www) the number of the involved public institutions and organisations working for Roma was a way higher.
Around 200 representatives of public institutions and civil society took part in the series of events dedicated to the Roma integration in Europe. On the tables sat for the very first time representatives of the Contact Point for Sinti and Roma. The public institutions were presented traditionally by DG Justice, DG NEAR, FRA, and the European Parliament. Civil society was represented by a number of young Roma activists and representatives of the European Roma Rights Centre, the Roma Initiatives Office of Open Society Foundations, the European Grassroots Organisations Network, Ternype International Roma Youth Network, The German Central Council of Sini and Roma, the Spanish Fundacion Secredariado Gitano and many more. In other words we can say that this Roma Week has been a very
(www) useful space where many stakeholders meet and see how the land lies.
Having in mind that there are very few opportunities for all main intergovernmental, governmental and non-governmental organisations working on Roma to meet and exchange a few words so they know who is doing what, the European Roma Week has turned into such ‘general assembly’ type of event. Full agenda of the Week can be found here, so nobody blames me if I have missed to mention anyone. Please take a look at it so you can also get a simple idea of who was speaking there.
Talking about who was on the table I should also notice who was not. It would have been better if
(ebi) the number of the MEPs hosting the event was not that small
Last year the EU Roma Week had many MEPs who stood behind the initiative with their name, participation and financial contribution. This does not mean that all the MEPs really turned up on the discussions about Roma. Still, last year was very much political in terms of ceremonies. In 2016 one could see singing the Roma anthem on a special ceremony at the European Parliament, lots of speeches from representatives of different political parties and two exhibitions. This year the Roma Week was kind of ‘operated’ by this ceremonialism and everything went without lots of noise. Even not a single media reflected the happening of it. Not even the media team of the European Parliament. The Roma movement, in contrast to the nationalists, is missing this media visibility.
(ebi) A video message from some MEPs on the occasion of 8 April,
for example, would be nice and it is not a lot of efforts.
On the Roma breakfast, which aims to meet the ones having power and the Roma advocates, only 4 MEPs took part: Soraya Post (S&D), Bodil Valero (Greens/EFA), Barbara Lochbichler (Greens/EFA) and Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL). Having in mind that active participation in the Roma week have previously taken Terry Reintke (Greens/EFA), Barbara Spinelli (GUE/NGL) and Javor Benedek (Greens/EFA) one could make the very simple conclusion: Roma are much higher in the agenda of Greens/EFA parliamentary group than any other parliamentary group. This absolutely does not say nice things about the Socialists&Democrats in particular. I can personally think about four things that are worrisome here: 1) Bad organisation of the event in terms of timing and approaching MEPs; 2) S&D does not really care about Roma; 3) Soraya Post does not have enough internal support inside her own parliamentary group (unless everyone was so much busy with everything else that is much more important: usually this is what they say) and 4) Where is Damian Draghici in this whole story?
I personally don’t know what the reason is, but as the slogan of the ‘X-files’ says: ‘The truth is still out there’.
Now, I have to say, I am absolutely disappointed by the fact that Damian Draghici continuously stays so aside and passive when it comes to the Roma agenda in the EP. I mean there are only three Roma MEPs among the 751 in total: Soraya Post (S&D), Damian Draghici (S&D) and James Carver (UKIP). Since James Carver is from UKIP (EU-non-friendly) he is automatically excluded by the others and no one talks to him. His name is not even circulating in the public space and he is not even being mentioned by Roma NGOs. I have personally seen Carver attending a Roma meeting in the EP with no invitation just because he cares. The case of Damian Draghici is what I call a peculiarity. Draghici is not attending meetings about Roma and no one knows why: no thank-you-letter, no sorry-letter, nothing. If I am a MEP and I see how my Roma colleague Mr Draghici is missing Roma events how am I supposed to react when I receive an invitation for a Roma event? With all my respect Mr Draghici, you can do better. Or your office in the Parliament can probably do. To wrap up on what can be better in this paragraph:
(ebi) Major parliamentary groups such as S&D and EPP show their support to the Roma Inclusion cause
(ebi) MEP Damian Draghici takes part in common Roma events such as the European Roma Week
Roma Week: What was it about?
The initial concept of the EU Roma Week at the European Parliament had three broad objectives: 1) Institutional recognition and addressing of Antigypsyism, 2) Mid-term review of the implementation of the EU Roma framework and input for the Post-2020 period and 3) Establishing a Roma Holocaust Memorial Day.
The specific form of discrimination against those perceived as ‘gypsies’, i.e. ‘antigypsyism’ is in the vocabulary of the European Roma Grassroots Organisations since 2006. However, it was only recently when the Parliament started using the term in its official documents. The Roma Week was a
(www) tool for raising awareness about the antigypsyism and its initial recognition and addressing by institutions at all levels.
It is expected that the European Parliament will come up with INI-report on Antigypsyism in the late 2017 and the outcomes of the Weeks sessions will be used as a source or as directions on what shall be included there. However, it isn’t easy neither to define nor to address such a complex issue such as the antigypsyism.
Firstly, in order to address it, we need to understand it.
Secondly, we can’t keep trying to solve a sickness with the same methods and pills. Something needs to be changed and this something is the public discourse. How do we change the public narrative is a giant topic, and indeed the answer of the question ‘How do we address the antigypsyism?’ is still hanging up in the air. What is for sure is that public policies and laws change perceptions the least while media is so much influential, so
(ebi) even better if we actually know how to address antigypsyism
The debate around the mid-term review of the EU Roma Framework was a very heated one. Particularly hot in the room became when Livia Jaroka, ex-MEP of Roma origin from Hungary, said how disappointed she feels seeing that young Roma do not know about her efforts to establish the European Roma Framework of National Roma Integration Strategies. And indeed those who started the battle for the Roma Integration were either so focused in their struggle or they just forgot to pass the knowledge to the new generations. ‘The age of the strategies is now finished, we can’t have a higher strategy for Roma than this one’, said Livia Jaroka. ‘Now it’s time to focus on monitoring and implementation and we have two more years’, she concluded.
Unfortunately no one in the room could say where the money for Roma goes, but everyone agreed they are not reaching Roma at the grassroots level. So how shall we monitor this process? On the other side non-Roma, hearing about the National Roma integration Strategies, think that Roma are benefiting and this is not fair.
If I had to draw this in a picture it would have looked like this:
The reality of the Roma of course is the picture on the left. Something wrong is happening on the way from Brussels to village X where Roma Y is supposed to benefit. On the Roma Week table became clear that Roma do not know how and where the money for integration flows and who should be hold accountable.
(ebi) it would be great if there is a clear chart showing where does the money go, how much and who is responsible (supposed to be done by DG Justice for the 27 states)
(www) Reaching an agreement, although an agreement that many of us do not know something, should be considered as something positive, so in the end of the day the Roma Week helped young Roma advocates to learn and ‘old’ ones to transfer knowledge.
What can be done to improve the monitoring and implementations of funds concerning Roma? Here are some proposals:
- Independent evaluators meet final beneficiaries after the end of the project to ask them about their satisfaction. If ‘Y’ does not even know about project ‘X’ obviously something went wrong. And by ‘independent’ I mean ‘independent’.
- Clarifying where Roma live according to national censuses and targeting primarily those regions
- Post 2020 Strategies should include a ‘number of already integrated Roma’ so that integration is not being presented as a bottomless jar anymore.
On the third point: ‘Establishing a Roma Holocaust Memorial Day’, I should say that the EP already voted, in 2015, recognising 2 August as Day dedicated to commemorate the Roma victims of the Holocaust. However, this European decision did not have enough ‘echo’ in the national parliaments and the campaign is ongoing.
(www) Raising awareness about 2nd August – International Roma Holocaust Memorial Day at European and national level.
After the end of the EU Roma week eyes are entirely on the ones having power and mostly at DG Justice, DG NEAR and FRA. I sincerely congratulate each person who works in those institutions and who always finds time to sit and meet organisations from the grassroots trying to understand their issues. More importantly, to address such issues in a complicated machinery such as the EU can be really challenging. The organisers of the Roma Week, most than everyone else, have realised the need of a common space where ideas and information can be shared between old and young, governments and NGOs, experienced and newbies… Of course, things can always be improved (especially in terms of siting places in the rooms, as here there was not enough room literally for no one) but it is important to mention that this event became possible because of the will of multiple entities. That means there is a will, there is collaboration, there is a dialogue. Such events always give fruits, sooner or later.
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