European Commission releases Autumn Package – ERGO Response

European Commission releases Autumn Package
What’s in it for Europe’s Roma?

On 17 December 2019, the European Commission published the so-called Autumn Package, including the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy 2020 and its annex, the draft Joint Employment Report, thus marking the beginning of the 2020 European Semester.

In a clear attempt to revamp the cycle, the document has been renamed Strategy (from Survey) and includes the additional word Sustainable. However, disappointingly, the word Social was not added to the title, despite repeated calls of civil society to that effect. On a more positive note, the previous definition of the European Semester recommended it as a mechanism for economic policy coordination, whereas now it looks at both economic and employment policies. This mirrors the structure of the Integrated Guidelines and brings some hope that social concerns (currently dealt with in Guideline 8 of the Employment Guidelines) are officially taken on board in the process. The document equally indicates that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) are delivered through the European Semester, and that these initiatives will be the object of dedicated, separate sections (and annexes) of the upcoming Country Reports (Winter Package). However, no explicit mention is made of the Europe 2020 Strategy, or its potential successor.

ERGO Network warmly welcomes the explicit mention of the European Roma the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy, where they are highlighted as one of the groups most at risk of exclusion and inequality (page 6), however laments that this preoccupation is not underpinned by a desire to improve quality of life and respect human dignity, but so that the Roma can better serve the economy. Other measures contained have the potential of being positive for Roma communities, hinging on the right implementation: warnings against energy poverty, an appeal for fair wages and open-ended contracts, supporting adequate social protection systems (regardless of employment status), investment in quality and inclusive education. Disappointingly, nothing is said about combating discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities, nor about access on behalf of vulnerable groups to essential services, such as housing and healthcare.

In what concerns the Joint Employment Report, the Roma are exclusively mentioned in the context of inclusive and desegregated education (pages 46, 76). This is a much appreciated focus, particularly as it also refers to obstacles to education attainment and completion such as severe poverty and housing exclusion. The Report reminds that “school-leaving rates of Roma are with 70% significantly higher than for other categories of pupils”, and stresses the importance of desegregation, promoting the inclusion of Roma pupils into mainstream education through financial and professional support, including educational mediators, scholarships, after school activities, language courses, free public transport, access to early childhood education and care, increased funding for schools working with vulnerable children, setting up working group on antisegregation, combatting bullying and the placing of Roma children in special needs classes or schools. These very positive steps, recorded in a number of countries and supported by the Report, are very much in line with ERGO’s own position and recommendations on quality, inclusive, and desegregated education.

On a less positive note, all the above measures are one sided and refer exclusively to educational establishments, while no mention is made of wrap-around support for families, access to adequate income, support towards quality jobs, decent housing, other services. Unfortunately, the Report contains no reference to the specific situation of ethnic minorities, racism, antigypsyism, combatting discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities for all (the latter, only from a gender perspective). Travellers are not mentioned anywhere in the document. Tackling structural problems, such as persistent poverty or rampant discrimination, does not seem to be a concern, nor is proposing an integrated approach to the multiple difficulties faced by Roma citizens in Europe. The Report completely overlooks the fact that they are overrepresented in unemployment and poverty rates, for instance, and face significant obstacles in accessing adequate social protection, as well as key services, such as affordable housing, or quality health- and long-term care, including childcare. This trend is consistent with the European Semester only discussing Roma rights and inclusion in relation to education, as evidenced by European Semester documents in previous years. Not even employment is highlighted, although the European Commission deemed it the worst-performing of the four thematic areas under the Eu Framework for Roma Integration Strategies (employment, education, health, housing).

The lack of coordination and complete disconnect between the implementation and monitoring of overarching social inclusion strategies, such as the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Social Pillar, and the EU Framework for Roma Integration Strategies is apparent. The latter remains marginal – and, indeed, is not even mentioned by name – in the European Semester. ERGO Network hopes that the new decade will bring closer alignment in the delivery of these initiatives, as well as concrete, measurable indicators for the dimensions of the Roma Strategy, and an alignment with the priorities of the Sustainable Development Goals and the European Pillar of Social Rights. Encouragingly, the Joint Employment Report contains a full paragraph supporting the participation and direct engagement of beneficiaries and their civil society organisations in the design, implementation, and monitoring of policies that concern them (page 112), which is also stipulated in Guideline 7 of the Employment Guidelines. Sadly, this support is not mirrored in the actual Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy, where only the vague phrasing “social partners and (other relevant) stakeholders” is employed.

For more information about ERGO Network’s work on EU social inclusion and employment policy (European Semester, Europe 2020, European Pillar of Social Rights, Sustainable Development Goals etc), please contact Senior Policy Adviser Amana Ferro.

Meeting with EC desk officers on CLLD

ERGO NETWORK DELEGATION OF NATIONAL MEMBERS AND REPRESENTATIVES OF LOCAL ACTION GROUPS MEET EUROPEAN COMMISSION DESK OFFICERS TO DISCUSS CLLD

 On 10 and 11 October, ERGO Network facilitated a meeting between its national members and representatives of Local Action Groups from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Romania, and the Desk Officers responsible for these countries from the European Commission Directorates- General for Regional and Urban Policy (REGIO), for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) and for Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI), to discuss the current state of implementation of Community-Led Local Development (CLLD).

ERGO Network has been working on CLLD approaches for the past seven years and considers it an essential tool for ensuring bottom-up approaches and interventions are rooted in real needs on the ground, with the full involvement of Roma communities. CLLD processes offer a great potential to engage Roma people more actively in shaping the future of their local areas, through the possibility to join local partnerships that design and implement an integrated local development strategy.

However, research conducted by ERGO Network in 2019 shows that further steps are needed to ensure the smooth implementation of CLLD initiatives, in what concerns both Roma engagement with its delivery structures, as well as prioritising Roma inclusion as a specific objection of the funded projects. Some of the key issues needing improvement, as identified by the report, are insufficient knowledge at the local level and in Roma communities about CLLD, low rate of participation of Roma communities and their NGOs in CLLD processes, and complex bureaucracy, burdensome administrative demands, and lengthy deadlines.

During the meetings with European Commission representatives on 10 and 11 October, the ERGO Network delegation presented the findings of the research report, while participants from the national level further complemented the synthesis conclusions with a wealth of detail regarding the situation in their specific countries. Additionally, the exchanges with desk officers focussed on the best way to tackle these shortcomings, specifically around three key topics:

  • How can we ensure an increased financial allocation for CLLD per country?
  • How to open the possibility for CLLD to use the multi-fund approach?
  • How to introduce a specific Roma indicator for CLLD projects?

The common discussion was followed by bilateral exchanges between the national representatives and their desk officer counterparts. All participants deemed the meeting very timely and useful in the context of upcoming negotiations with Member States on the Multiannual Financial Framework. European Commission officials thanked the ERGO Network for its involvement and hard work, which was considered extremely helpful also in preparing the Commission’s next meeting with National Governments, scheduled for November-December.

  • To know more about Community-Led Local Development (CLLD), please click here.
  • To consult an overview of ERGO Network’s activities on CLLD, please click here.
  • To access ERGO Network’s 2019 Synthesis Report on CLLD (see above), please click here.
  • For more information about ERGO Network’s current work on CLLD, please contact Director Gabriela Hrabaňová.

Roma Civil Monitor: the third cycle

Roma Civil Monitor partners gather at the Central European University to define the topics of the third round of civil society monitoring reports

Image credit CEU / Andras Dimeny (kepszerk.hu)

The year 2020 will mark the final year of the current EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies, within which Member States have developed their own national targeted policies for Roma or ‘sets of policy measures’. Since 2012 the Commission has been reporting annually on the implementation by the Member States and since 2016 the Member States have been reporting to the European Commission. Civil society efforts to produce reports about the implementation from their perspective were intensified in 2017 when the Commission funded the Roma Civil Monitor project.

The project involves about 90 civil society organizations and experts from all EU Member States (with the exception of Malta) as well as four NGOs with experience working internationally on Roma-related issues, including ERGO Network.

Monitoring reports are available for the first cycle, which investigated how the Member State strategies combat antigypsyism and discrimination, governance and, for the countries with the largest Roma communities, the impact of mainstream education policy on Roma. The findings of the second cycle are also now available. During this cycle, the reporting in all countries focused on education, employment, healthcare and housing.

This year in September representatives of the Roma civil society coalitions met at Central European University in Budapest to discuss which topics they are hoping to address in the third cycle reports. This time the focus will be on what has been missing from the implementation or from the strategies themselves, so the content will vary from country to country.

Some of the topics discussed were the following: Antigypsyism in policymaking; Ensuring Roma inclusiveness in mainstream programmes; Integrated approaches for Roma inclusion; Civil society, empowerment and participation; Social services, fighting homelessness, substance abuse; Youth, children protection and rights, parenting skills, 0-3 care and many other topics. ERGO Network’s advocacy and research coordinator together with colleagues from the Center for Policy Studies lead the workshop on combating antigypsyism and targeting mainstream. Many participants found the topic relevant and identified specific problems that they intend to address in their national context. The next step is both assisting the CSOs and experts in the preparation and the actual preparation of the third cycle reports.

We expect that the publication of the third cycle shadow reports will describe to what extent the situation has developed and where the biggest “blind sports” are, which would be one of the tools and resources used in the process of creation of the new EU Roma Strategic Framework.

Roma participation in Community-Led Local Development

Roma participation in Community-Led Local Development

Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) is an initiative for involving citizens at local level in developing responses to today’s social, environmental and economic challenges, and a promising tool for investing in Roma inclusion. The European Commission expects CLLD to facilitate implementing integrated approaches among the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds) to achieve the 11 thematic objectives set out in the Common Provision Regulation (CPR) at local level. It aims to give ownership to beneficiaries, with a special focus on marginalized communities, through capacity building, empowerment, full transparency, and sharing of the decision-making power. The Commission encourages the use of CLLD to allow local communities to take ownership of the targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy.

ERGO members conducted research in four key countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania), aimed at assessing the extent to which Roma inclusion was mainstreamed throughout the CLLD processes, in what concerns both the content of the activities, as well as stakeholder involvement. The research was funded through the International Visegrad Fund.
This research was aimed at ensuring increased awareness of the CLLD process, leading to more Roma NGOs taking part in CLLD. Another aim was that CLLD, as a good practice tool, would be continued after 2020, with 10% of EU funds being distributed according to CLLD principles.

Download the report here.

Roma grassroots perspectives on poverty alleviation

New publication: Roma grassroots perspectives on poverty alleviation

In 2018 in the framework of ERGO’s Annual Work Programme ‘Roma Included in Social Europe’ (RIISE), ERGO Network members from Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic conducted seven comprehensive local case studies that contribute to a better understanding of the impact of National Roma Integration Strategies (NRISs) and relevant mainstream measures on local Roma communities. The topic of the case studies was how access to quality education and employment as well as antigypsyism affect Roma people’s economic situation.

We have now published a synthesis report that can serve as evidence concerning implementation of the EU Roma Framework and mainstream social policies on the grassroots level, which can support the EU institutions’ work on making the European Pillar of Social Rights a reality.

The main objective is to fill the gap and bring more perceptions of Roma into Roma-related discourses. Therefore ERGO members explored Roma people’s perspectives on the causes of poverty that can potentially say more about barriers to poverty reduction efforts and implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategies and social policies (if any). Fostering participation of Roma in voicing their needs and positions about what causes their economic situation is crucial for our work.

You can read the synthesis report here.