ERGO Network’s Response to the Country-Specific Recommendations

European Semester: European Commission releases Spring Package 2020
What’s in it for Europe’s Roma?

On 20 May 2020, the European Commission published the so-called Spring Package, comprising the 28 Country-Specific Recommendations 2020 (including the United Kingdom), and the accompanying Communication on Country-Specific Recommendations, in the framework of the 2020 European Semester. Together with its national members, ERGO Network has reviewed the Package, to see to which extent it explicitly mentions Roma rights and inclusion, as well as other key issues, such as ethnic minorities, discrimination, racism, and the role of civil dialogue.

Overall, while our members welcome references to Roma communities in the Communication and in some countries, they lament that most documents don’t explicitly mention them, where the Roma are present in all Member States except Malta, and experience rates of poverty and social exclusion of over 80% in all of them except the Czech Republic. This situation was exacerbated by the current public health, social, and economic crisis and associated containment measures, as highlighted also by the Package, hence it would have warranted more attention paid to one of Europe’s most left-behind communities. For the CSRs that do mention the Roma, our members agree with the challenges identified for their countries, however they would have liked to see a more comprehensive, integrated approach across the four pillars of the National Roma Integration Strategies, with notably housing being conspicuously missing from the analysis. This is particularly important in the context of the upcoming renewal of the EU Strategic Framework for Roma Inclusion, scheduled for later this year.

While the recurrent focus on mitigating the consequences for vulnerable groups is very positive, it is our members’ experience that, unless the Roma are explicitly named as key target beneficiaries of support measures, mainstream initiatives and dedicated national and EU funds end up not reaching them. Europe’s Roma must be specifically prioritised in the EU’s Recovery Package and associated funds, if the EU is serious about delivering on its commitments for Roma inclusion. Our members equally express disappointment that issues of discrimination and antigypsyism are not present in the Package, as these have increased in recent years, and even more so during the pandemic. Finally, they deplore the lack of recognition and support given to civil society organisations in the documents, given that most of them were not only on the frontlines during the pandemic, providing essential support to communities in need, but they equally possess the knowledge, expertise, and direct links to beneficiaries which are needed to inform the design of public policies and ensure both ownership and effectiveness of interventions.

See below the Key Findings of the analysis, and access the full report here.

Key Findings

  1. The Communication accompanying the Country-Specific Recommendations highlights the Roma as one of the most affected groups by poverty, inequality, and social exclusion.
  2. In contrast, for the first time since 2012, not a single Country-Specific Recommendation 2020 mentions the Roma, while there were 4 in 2019 (Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia).
  3. The Roma are only mentioned in the Preamble for 4 Member States (Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia), the same ones as the 2019 Preambles, minus the Czech Republic.
  4. Ethnic minorities, discrimination, and racism are completely absent from all 28 documents, while only the blanket, vague term of “vulnerable groups” is typically used.
  5. Civil society is only mentioned in 4 Preambles (Finland, Hungary, Portugal, Slovenia), while in contrast social partners are referred to in 3 CSRs and 16 Preambles.

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.

Roma equality as part of the EU accession process

Civil society letter addressing Roma equality as part of the
EU accession process and the EU response to the Covid-19 pandemic to Olivér Várhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement

On behalf of a European coalition of Roma and pro-Roma organizations, we call upon you and the European Commission to prioritise the fundamental rights and equality of Roma and the protection of the most vulnerable when redefining the EU priorities and investment regarding the Enlargement and Neighbourhood policy in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically exposed the structural exclusion, inequality and vulnerability of Roma communities.

The EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit on May 6, 2020 represents an important occasion to reaffirm the commitment with a strong political signal of the European Commission that Roma equality and inclusion constitutes an integral and unegotiationable part of the EU accession process. We urge the European Commission and all leaders of EU Member States and Enlargement and Neighbourhood countries to address the following three priorities in order to ensure the equal treatment, safety, well-being and equality of Roma communities – taking into account also their diversity – and thereby contribute to ameliorating the pandemic situation for all Europeans:

1. An immediate European humanitarian response should coordinate and allocate sufficient resources to all vulnerable groups, in particular marginalized Roma communities and all racialized minorities, making sure they are reached in the enlargement and neighbourhood countries.

2. The mid- and long-term EU Covid-19 response in the Western Balkans, Turkey and Neighbourhood countries should fully take into account the needs of vulnerable Roma communities, and define them as a priority group in all mainstream policies and measures, including in economic aid and recovery, housing and infrastructure, social protection, health care, education and employment.

3. A post-2020 “EU Strategic Framework for Roma Equality and Inclusion” – to be finalized and launched during the German EU Presidency – must constitute a top priority in the Covid-19 response. This EU Strategic Framework should fully involve the Enlargement and Neighbourhood countries, and it should be established on an anti-racism approach, by recognising the impact of antigypsyism as a decisive barrier for Roma inclusion. The fight against antigypsyism shall complement and not replace the inclusion approach.

Mr. Commissioner Várhelyi, your leadership is important to address the increased inequalities and the widening gap between Roma and non-Roma in the Enlargement and Neighbourhood countries, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are currently witnessing a growing humanitarian crisis that affects Roma and other vulnerable minority communities. We recognize the current efforts of municipalities, national governments and international stakeholders to provide humanitarian assistance, and underline especially the important role and contribution of the Romani civil society in these countries; but much more remains to be done.
As such, the short-term humanitarian assistance will not be enough to overcome the deep structural problems. The Covid-19 pandemic especially exposed the structural manifestations of antigypsyism regarding the basic living conditions: the residential segregation, forced evictions, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and the denial of basic services. The strong dependency of many Roma on insecure, precarious work, and the lack of access to the qualified labour market contributed profoundly to the current humanitarian crisis.

Therefore, we underline the urgency for an increased investment and political commitment to Roma equality, economic and social justice, and combating antigypsyism. Only with long-term investments in infrastructure, improved living conditions and smart and flexible economic solutions in employment and entrepreneurship, quality education, a clean environment, and fighting poverty and antigypsyism starting now and throughout mid-term measures we can viably contribute to solving the most stringent problems of the Roma communities.

The European Union has to ensure that both short-term as well as long-term measures include and specifically address the situation and position of Roma in the Enlargement and Neighbourhood countries and bring positive benefits to them.

Joint statement on behalf of
Roma Active Albania, Otaharin (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians (Kosovo), Advancing Together (Kosovo), Phiren Amenca (Montenegro), RROMA (North Macedonia), Romalitico (North Macedonia), Romaversitas (North Macedonia), Forum Roma Serbia (Serbia), Association of Coordinators for Roma Issues (Serbia), Zero Discrimination Association (Turkey), Central Council of German Sinti and Roma (Germany), ERGO Network (Belgium).

Download the letter as pdf.

Further information and specific recommendations:
Joint CSO statement of March 31, 2020: Alarming situation of Roma communities in the Western Balkans and Turkey through the COVID-19 pandemic
ERGO Network policy recommendations of April 30, 2020: The effects of Covid-19 on Roma communities in EU Member States and Enlargement and Neighbourhood Countries
Post-2020 Roma Policy Coalition statement of March 16, 2020: Towards a EU post-2020 Roma equality and inclusion policy; Civil Society response on the Roadmap of the European Commission


EU Recovery plan – the case of Roma

The effects of Covid-19 on Roma communities in EU Member States and Enlargement and Neighbourhood Countries

Throughout Europe, most governments have failed to design or implement specific measures to address the vulnerability of Roma during the coronavirus pandemic. With Commissioner’s Dalli statement on the importance of prioritising the protection of fundamental rights and racialised minorities during Covid-19, and the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus and EU Solidarity Fund, Member States were provided the needed support to address the impact of the pandemic crisis on the economy and society, including the most vulnerable.

Despite the massive lack of data on the situation of Roma during the pandemic, reports from our members and partner CSOs indicate a huge, disproportionately negative impact of both the pandemic and the security measures associated with it on Roma communities across Member States, Enlargement and Neighbourhood Countries, aggravated by long-term systemic discrimination and antigypsyism.

ERGO Network has issued two papers addressing this situation:

The first, “EU Recovery Plan: The case of Roma in the Member States, Enlargement and Neighbourhood Countries” offers a set of concrete policy measures both urgent and mid-term to the European Commission.

The second document provides insights into the situation of different Member, Enlargement and Neighbourhood States.

ERGO Network will continue to closely monitor the impact of the crisis.

Joint letter to Helena Dalli

Coronavirus: NGOs warn against Roma exclusion from EU crisis response

ERGO Network together with 8 other (pro-)Roma civil society organisations have sent a letter to EU Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli, calling on the Commission to do its utmost to ensure that in drawing down on crisis funds, Member States do not further discriminate against Roma and other racialized minorities.

Find the full letter here.

The Brussels Times reported about the letter here.

The letter was signed by the European Roma Rights Centre, ERGO Network, European Network against Racism, Roma Education Fund, European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture, Roma Active Albania, Roma Entrepreneurship Development Initiative, Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and Fundacion Secretariado Gitano.

Post-2020 European Roma Coalition

Post-2020 European Roma Coalition

In order to ensure a strong commitment and tangible results by European institutions to the post-2020 EU policy on Roma, a number of Roma and pro-Roma civil society organisations have come together and established a Post-2020 European Roma Coalition (working title). The aim of the Coalition is to achieve substantive equality, participation and social justice of Roma in all spheres of life by combating antigypsyism,  strengthening Roma and pro-Roma civil society and by fostering principles of good governance into the Roma policies at the EU and national levels, political will and institutional accountability.

The Coalition started being operational on 17 February 2020, on the occasion of the European Commission`s publication of the Roadmap-setting out the EU post 2020 Roma equality and inclusion policy.

The Post-2020 European Roma Coalition welcomes the commitment of the European Commission to develop a reinforced post-2020 European Strategic Framework and calls for an ambitious and binding “Post-2020 European Strategic Framework for Roma equality, social and economic justice, and  combating antigypsyism” aiming at achieving substantive equality and full participation of Roma as equal citizens across Europe to be created.

In addition, the joint statement addresses several aspects of the Roadmap that should be fully considered when designing the future EU Strategic Framework, such as:

  • Ensuring the fundamental-rights, anti-racism, and empowerment approach;
  • Improving governance, policy mainstreaming, and effective implementation;
  • Increasing investment of the EU and Member states to Roma communities.

The Coalition is also calling for seven main priority areas to be established under the EU Framework, including: (a) fighting antigypsyism and discrimination; (b) effective empowerment and participation in art, history and media; (c) quality and inclusive education; (d) quality and sustainable employment; (e) quality healthcare and universal health insurance; (f) adequate and desegregated housing and (g) eradicating poverty and social exclusion.

Furthermore, the Coalition asked the European Commission to expand the list of cross-cutting priorities within the EU Framework, including, but are not limited to: Environmental injustice/racism; Gender mainstreaming and intersectional and multiple discrimination with a focus on key priority groups: children, young people, women, LGBTQI+ persons, persons with disabilities, and elderly people; Intra-EU mobility and migration; and Diversity of Roma (Sinti, Travellers, Manush, Kale, and other related groups).

All signatory organisations underlined that Roma and civil society organisations should be an integral part in the design, implementation, and monitoring of the Framework. In addition, the Roadmap should transform Roma participation into a binding common quality standard for the future European Strategic Framework and National Strategies.

The full text of the statement is available here.

The Coalition members which have contributed to the letter include: Alliance against Antigypsyism, Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, Center for Policy Studies of the Central European University, European Network Against Racism (ENAR), European Roma Grassroots Organisations (ERGO) Network, European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC), European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), Fundación Secretariado Gitano (FSG), Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI), Phiren Amenca International Network, Roma Active Albania (RAA), Roma Education Fund (REF), Roma Entrepreneurship Development Initiative (REDI), and ternYpe International Roma Youth Network.