EU launches the first 'legal instrument' for Roma integration

21/02/2014

The EU is urging member states to take action for Roma integration following the latest agreement reached in Brussels.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 21/02/2014

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Roma education is one of the four main areas governments must focus on under the EU agreement on Roma integration. [Gabriel Petrescu/SETimes]

Roma communities are expecting concrete steps from EU member states to improve their social and economic integration, based on an agreement reached in December that is being hailed as the first EU-level "legal instrument" for Roma inclusion.

"The agreement is a strong signal that member states are willing to tackle the challenging task of Roma integration head-on," Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission (EC) and EU commissioner for justice, rights and citizenship, said in a communiqué posted on the European executive arm's website. "Ministers have made a unanimous commitment to improve the situation for Roma communities on the ground."

Based on previous EC reports, the agreement calls for specific measures for effective Roma integration and empowerment, focused on access to education, jobs, health services and housing.

According to the agreement, the member states are required to protect Roma communities, taking special actions against the discrimination of Roma women and children and reduce poverty. To achieve these goals, the EU recommends that the 28 member states not solely rely on European funds, but also use state and private funding.

"Now is the time for member states to allocate substantial EU funding in the 2014-20 period, together with national money, to help Roma communities to realize their full potential, and to demonstrate the political will at all levels to ensure the money is well spent," said Laszlo Andor, commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion.

Marian Daragiu, the leader of the Civic Democratic Roma Alliance, said in order to be effective, the Roma inclusion policies have to go beyond speeches.

"The council's decision and the commission's recommendations should be turned into a European directive because thus they become mandatory," he told SETimes. "Otherwise, we will face the same lack of political will and professionalism in dealing with the Roma integration issue."

Marian Mandache, executive director of Romani Criss, a leading NGO in Romania, said the "agreement is a good step but we are wondering whether it is articulate enough to produce effects."

"It has no clear and mandatory indicators to gauge the results. …the weak point of this agreement is that it is not judicially binding," Mandache told SETimes.

It has never been the intention of the EU to pass legally binding decisions, said Nele Meyer, Roma expert at Amnesty International based in Brussels.

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"This agreement is mostly a commitment to encourage member states to act more firmly in the area of Roma integration," Meyer told SETimes. "Now we have to see how the countries will translate these recommendations into actions."

Legally coercive measures such as infringement procedures could be a good way to persuade countries to pass Roma integration reforms, she said.

"On the ground discrimination persists because member states have not been very progressive in fighting it, other than public statements," Meyer said.

What are the most effective steps the governments should take to improve Roma social and economic integration across Europe? Join the discussion below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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