European Semester 2018: Will EU Members States include Roma in their National Reform Programmes?

European Semester 2018: Will EU Members States include Roma in their National Reform Programmes?

On 22 November the European Commission launched the 2018 Autumn Package of the European Semester, the first step in the annual cycle of economic and social policy coordination between the EU Members States and the Commission.

Each year, the European Commission produces an analysis of each country’s situation in a number of policy areas, including social policies. These “country reports”, together with the National Reform Programmes (NRPs) drafted by national governments, lay the ground for the so-called Country-Specific Recommendations (CSRs), which advise national governments on measures to take in their future policies. The country reports for 2018 will be released in February 2018.

Regularly the countries with large Roma populations (e.g. Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic) receive the recommendation to speed up the implementation of their national Roma integration strategies and ensure that Roma are not left behind. So far, however, these recommendations were hardly taken into account.

In the Annual Growth Survey the European Commission sets out general policies and social priorities for the year ahead.  After a few years of focusing on macroeconomic reforms, for 2018 the survey finally highlights again the importance of social issues and brings up the importance of an integrated approach for the inclusion of vulnerable groups. This reflects the recently adopted European Pillar of Social Rights and gives hope that it will be taken seriously by the European Commission and Member States.

According to the Annual Growth Survey the top priorities for 2017-2018 relevant for Roma are:

  • Equal opportunities and access to the labour market
  • Promoting well-functioning labour markets and modern welfare systems
  • Job creation and fair working conditions
  • Social protection and inclusion to tackle inequality and poverty

ERGO Network hopes that the European Commission will continue to give priority to social issues in the next steps of the 2018 European Semester and will not overlook Roma in its country-specific recommendations as the most excluded minority in Europe. The implementation of the EU Roma Framework with its National Roma Integration Strategies should be supported by the European Semester.

ERGO Network urges the European Commission and the Members States that their response to social problems should not only be linked to employment, but also to the rise of antigypsyist attitudes that Roma are facing daily and that impediment their wellbeing in all spheres of their life.

More on the European Semester here.

Opening up Communities, Closing down Institutions

Opening up Communities, Closing down Institutions: Harnessing the European Structural and Investment Funds

On 22nd November 2017, ERGO Director Jamen Gabriela Hrabanova took part in an event of the initiative Community Living for Europe: Structural Funds Watch, where a report on the use of EU funds for community leaving was launched. The event took part in the European Parliament and was co-hosted by Mairead McGuinness, MEP (EPP) and Vice President of the European Parliament and Iskra Mihaylova, MEP (ALDE) and Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Regional Development.Regarding children, evidence shows that a caring and protective family, immediate and extended, is central to a child’s health, development, and protection. Community living is a human right, recognised under European and international law. However, Roma children are overrepresented in institutional care, confirming that poverty is the chief cause of children being separated from their families and placed in institutions.

The report analyses the role of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) with respect to the transition from institutional to community-based living for children and young people, including those with disabilities, adults with disabilities and older persons in EU Member States. It contains examples, both positive and negative, that demonstrate how the Member States have implemented the ESIF regulations, how they are currently using or are planning to use the ESIF to support the transition to community-based living, and provides concrete recommendations for the current and next funding period post 2020.

Jamen Gabriela Hrabanova from ERGO Network brought the Roma perspective to the launch event. Children and young people make up almost half of today’s Roma population in Europe (around 35.7% under 15 years compared to 15% of the majority population). Investing in deinstitutionalisation is therefore an investment into Europe’s future generation that will yield very high returns. There is however a lack of preventive measures to stop institutionalisation of Roma children, as the number of social workers who support discriminated and poor families is insufficient and investment into community projects is extremely scarce.

She pointed out that new kinds of services need to be created that are adapted to the needs of the people, who should be involved in the design of these services. Only when beneficiaries have their say, the use of European Structural and Investment Funds can really be effectively used for social inclusion measures. This must of course include Roma beneficiaries, as they are often a main target for social inclusion measures.

The initiative Community Living for Europe looked in particular into the effect of the ex-ante conditionality 9.1 that demands Member States to invest in de-institutionalisation when using European Structural and Investment Funds. Also for Roma an ex-ante conditionality (9.2) is in place. It demands Member States to have a national Roma integration strategy in place if they want to access ESIF. As with conditionality 9.1. on active inclusion however, also in the Roma field having a strategy in place does not mean that it will also be implemented. A change in policy is therefore necessary that puts more emphasis on quality of implementation of social investment measures in EU member states.

ERGO and its member organisations will continue to monitor the use of ESIF for the social inclusion and poverty reduction of Roma and greatly appreciates the report issued by Community Living for Europe: Structural Funds Watch.

You can find the report here: https://eustructuralfundswatchdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/cle-sfw_opening-up-communities-november-2017_final.pdf

Annual Members Meeting

Annual Members Meeting 2017

On 26 November 2017, ERGO Network’s member organisations came together for ERGO’s Annual Members Meeting. 45 participants from 25 member organisations joined the ERGO Board and Secretariat in Brussels for a day full of discussions and networking.

After being updated on the highlights of ERGO’s work in 2017, the members shared the achievements of their national and local organisations, showing the wealth of expertise that ERGO Network assembles through its membership. This expertise also became evident in a membership survey that ERGO has conducted in the past months and that has been presented by the secretariat, giving everyone a better oversight over the diversity within ERGO.

To follow up on this membership survey, the ERGO board set up a working group that will establish clearer criteria for membership in ERGO Network as well as propose reforms to the process of joining the network in the coming months.

Finally, the Annual Members Meeting was also an opportunity to plan common initiatives. During the ‘Open Space of Cooperation’, the participants discussed project proposals or used the time to share their experiences in specific working areas. One working group for example planned a European youth project on online hate speech, whereas another one discussed the current statutes of ERGO and reflected on possible constitutional reforms.

The following day, all members were invited to ERGO’s public event ‘Investing in our future: what work(s) for young Roma’, with some of them contributing as speakers to present promising examples of Roma youth employment and empowerment from their own work.

We thank every one of our members for contributing to the meetings and for all their input and engagement throughout the whole year.

Investing in our future: what work(s) for young Roma

ERGO Network asks European leaders and Member States to better invest in Roma youth employment

At a panel debate organised by ERGO Network on Monday (27/11/2017) preceding the 11th Meeting of the European Platform for Roma Inclusion, European policy makers and civil society representatives discussed what is needed to better support young Roma on the labour market.

Youth unemployment in the EU has decreased in 2016 – good news after years of economic recession. However, for young Roma the situation is not at all the same. The rate of young Roma not in education, employment or training (NEET) has risen in almost all Member States with a high Roma population: 63 % of Roma aged 16-24 are not in employment, education or training, compared with the 12 % EU average on the NEET rate for the same age group.

During the debate, Simona Torotcoi, researcher in the Central European University, presented a research study prepared with members in ERGO Network. The young people interviewed expressed as greatest obstacles the lack of quality education and training, which is in many cases influenced by school segregation of Roma and a high drop-out rate. But also the generally bad labour market situation in their area with salaries below a living wage and antigypsyism by employers play a big role for their situation. Torotcoi pointed out: “The most surprising finding was that young Roma have internalised antigypsyism so much that they told us Roma are lazy, even though only a small number of them have ever refused a job”.

Dominique Bé, Policy Officer in DG Employment and Social Affairs,

remarked that the lack of access to quality education was the main factor for Roma youth unemployment. “Many employers are willing to employ Roma if they have the right skillset; therefore the biggest change needs to happen in the education systems”.

There is a lot of pessimism when it comes to Roma employment, but ERGO’s study showed that young Roma are motivated to work and that positive examples of employment measures exist. Melinda Kassai from ERGO Member Pro Cseherat presented the example of a community gardening project in Hungary that supports the income of rural Roma communities in a sustainable way. She explained that with some more investment, projects like this could be up-scaled and transferred to many similar communities in order to yield positive results both for Roma and non-Roma.

Thorsten Afflerbach, Head of Division for the Roma and Travelers Team in the Council of Europe, expressed the need for a better exchange between national governments on employment measures that have proven to be successful and in this regard welcomed ERGO’s research that presents 10 promising practices identified by grassroots organisations.

For ERGO Network it is essential that young Roma themselves are involved in the design of effective policies and measures that can improve their situation on the labour market, as beneficiaries know best what support they need. In the framework of the research project, young Roma ask their national governments to invest more in youth entrepreneurship, improve the cooperation between public employment services, NGOs and educational institutions, ensure a decent level of wages and combat antigypsyism on the labour market.

Such measures would not be possible without the EU’s support and assistance to the Member States through its key actions and financing. ERGO Network passes on these messages to the 11th EU Roma Platform and urges the European Union to put greater emphasis on young Roma in its employment, education and Roma policies and programmes. This includes a revision of the European Youth Guarantee and the Youth Employment Initiative to give particular attention to hard-to-reach groups, inclusion of specific targets for Roma employment in the Social Scoreboard of the European Pillar of Social Rights and concrete strategies to combat antigypsyism on the labour market.

Please find more information on the research ‘Investing in our Future’: What work(s) for young Roma here.

Let actions follow words – Proclamation of European Pillar of Social Rights

Today, at the EU’s Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth in Gothenburg, the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council jointly proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Social Pillar has been published on 26 April 2017 by the European Commission as a summary of existing EU social legislation. Its aim is to serve as a guide towards a more social Europe and ‘upward convergence’ of social policies in the EU Member States. The Pillar includes 20 principles under three chapters: Equal opportunities and access to the labour market; Fair working conditions; social protection and inclusion.

For Roma as the most marginalised ethnic minority in the EU, with 80% at risk of poverty, only 30% in paid work and only half attending pre-school education, the European Pillar of Social Rights could mean an important step forward – if EU Member States take their commitment for a more social Europe seriously.

ERGO Network strongly urges European leaders to make of the Social Pillar more than just a proclamation and prevent it from becoming an empty shell. After the important step today, it is now time to let actions follow words. The principles touch on issues such as protection against forced eviction, access to essential services, inclusive education and the right for children to protection from poverty – all issues that, if tackled properly, can mean a real advancement for the social inclusion of Roma in the EU.

Now is the time to put dedicated budgets in place to make a social Europe a reality – a Europe that pays particular attention to its most disadvantaged citizens and does everything it can to reduce inequalities.