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.

Strategies against antigypsyism

Strategies against antigypsyism

The international conference „Strategies against antigypyism“ took place in Tenerife on 12 and 13 December 2019. It was organized by the Karipen association in cooperation with the Ministry for Health, Consumers Affairs and Social Welfare of the Canary Island Government, Cabildo of Tenerife and Khetane Platform. At the invitation of FAGIC ERGO member, Gabriela Hrabanova, ERGO Network director presented strategies against antigypsyism from grassroots to EU level and vice versa.

The conference brought together political and public representatives from European, national and local, Roma leaders and activists countering antigypsyism.  Among them Soraya Post, ERGO Network co-chair, Romeo Franz, Member of the European Parliament for the Greens/EFA group and Juan Fernardo Lopez Aguilar, Chair of the LIBE Committee in the European Parliament. It also gathered many local and national Roma politicians from Spain, including Ismael Cortes, a Member of the Spanish parliament.

The conference focused on three topics: 1) the concept of antigypsyism throughout history up to present; 2) institutional antigypsyism and ways to combat it through politics and 3) antigypsyism and gender issues.

The historical aspect was covered by Iulius Rostas, visiting professor at the Central European University and the Spanish academic of Romani origin, Helios Fernandez. The main message was that over the centuries, but also in recent years, institutions have been perpetuating a paternalistic approach under the pretence of making Roma better, by changing the names of programs and policies aiming at including Roma in societies, but very often achieving only their assimilation. The important next step is to introduce the policy of reconciliation, to narrow the centuries of hardship of Roma.

It was also discussed that often Roma might not know how to describe and what antigypsyism is, however many experiences it on the daily basis. For example, school segregation is a reality in Spain, while Roma surnames or home addresses can lead to discriminatory practices when accessing jobs or advancing in the career.

On a positive note, the regional and local government of Canary Islands and Tenerife have shown interest in working together with the local association Karipen, not only by hosting this event, but also by allocating a budget line for Roma inclusion.

ERGO conference on education, 19 November

Roma access to mainstream education: ERGO Network annual conference

Time: 19 November 2019, 10:00-12:30

Place: Representation of the State of Baden-Württemberg to the European Union, Rue Belliard 60-62 (Brussels)

We kindly invite you to attend ERGO Network’s conference on Roma access to mainstream education.

Education is an increasingly important topic in the European public and political discourse, with objectives on education in the Europe 2020 Strategy, the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals and the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. However, the Roma are still too often left behind when it comes to accessing educational opportunities on equal footing with majority groups. Existing legal and policy tools, including targeted actions on Roma education, as well as infringement procedures, are not as effective as they could be in challenging ingrained patterns of Roma exclusion and discrimination.

The conference will be kindly hosted by the Members of the European Parliament Romeo Franz (Greens/EFA) and Peter Pollák (EPP). It will bring together ERGO Network members from the grassroots level, European civil society organisations and other Brussels stakeholders, and EU policy-makers across the institutional spectrum, to discuss how to achieve real policy change for Roma in the area of education.

Have a look at the agenda of the conference.

Please don’t forget to register for the conference by following this link.

Venue: Representation of the State of Baden-Württemberg to the European Union, Rue Belliard 60-62 (Brussels)

For questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch: info@ergonetwork.org, +32 2 893 10 49.

This conference is kindly supported by a grant from the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

ERGO Network receives financial support from the European Union Programme for Employment and Social Innovation EaSI (2014-2020). For further information please consult: http://ec.europa.eu/social/easi

Civil society united in their demands for the post 2020 EU Roma Strategic Framework

Civil society united in their demands for the post 2020 EU Roma Strategic Framework

Around 40 members of the civil society and other close partners worked hard in September to coordinate and prepare civil society’s input into the ‘Workshop on future policies for Roma’ organised by the European Commission’s DG Justice on 1 October 2019.

We organised two preparation meetings in ERGO Network: one on 16 September, ahead of a DG Justice consultation meeting, and another one on 30 September, ahead of the mentioned 1 October workshop.  We also organised an online meeting and had intensive communication over emails to be well prepared and give our best to put together our priorities in terms of concrete demands for the future EU policies for Roma.

Before the 1 October workshop, the European Commission published three short background papers to provide a basis for discussion. The background papers proposed six different policy options for a future EU Roma Framework:

  • Option 1: “Do less” – no new framework
  • Option 2: “Do the same” – carrying forward the current framework
  • Option 3: “Do differently (1)” – fighting antigypsyism approach
  • Option 4: “Do differently (2)” – Social inclusion approach
  • Option 5: “Do better” – a revised EU Roma Framework
  • Option 6: “Do more” – broadened approach to equality and inclusion

During the meeting on 16 September, we created four working groups, based on topics of the published background papers, expertise and interest of civil society actors and we split the responsibilities to analyse the papers. We were soon ready to present our analysis to other civil society partners during the next civil society meeting in ERGO Network on 30 September.

Our position: Option 7

During the 30 September meeting, after very intense and fruitful discussions, the civil society partners agreed to present an “Option 7” at the European Commission workshop the following day. Option 7 can be seen as a combination of options 3,4 and 6, as it takes a double approach of focusing on social inclusion and combating antigypsyism. It combines mainstreaming of Roma inclusion across policy areas with a stronger monitoring component, asks for ensuring funding and puts emphasis on the importance of Roma participation.

At the 1 October workshop, ERGO Network Director Gabriela Hrabanova opened the civil society statements by presenting our option, and Roma civil society as a whole convinced with taking a very strong and united position, asking for a new Council Recommendation on Roma inclusion and combating antigypsyism. The activists furthermore also advocated for a new focus on so far unaddressed forms of antigypsyism such as environmental injustice.

As a follow-up to the workshop, we are asking for Option 7 to be further developed by the European Commission’s experts. Together with our partners we also continue to pursue other advocacy goals, such as asking the Fundamental Rights Agency to develop indicators to measure Member States’ answers to antigypsyism.

We now need everyone on board to continue lobbying for our demands also within the Member States and aim to create a strong and wide civil society support for an effective Post 2020 Framework both in the EU and in neighbouring countries.

If you would like to discuss this further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with ERGO at g.hrabanova@ergonetwork.org.

Looking back at the EU Roma Week 2019

Looking back at the EU Roma Week 2019

From 18-21 March 2019, the fourth EU Roma Week took place in Brussels, jointly organised by several Members of the European Parliament, the EU Commission, the UN Human Rights Office in Brussels and civil society organisations. The Roma Week offered a framework for a series of events discussing Roma-related policies and giving the spotlight to the fight against antigypsyism. ERGO Network played a leading role in a number of events held during the week.

The Roma Week would not make any sense without the active involvement of Roma activists from across Europe. Therefore, together with the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, the Documentation and Cultural Centre and ternYpe International Roma Youth Network, ERGO Network invited a group of youth activists to prepare for the week in the Roma Youth Advocacy Training. Moreover, ERGO Network coordinated the participation of the most important Roma civil society activists in Europe under the umbrella of the ‘Alliance against Antigypsyism’ together with the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma.

Before the start of events in the European Parliament, ERGO members from the project Joint Initiative to Empower Roma Civil Society in the Western Balkans and Turkey attended the conference Roma Inclusion in the Western Balkans: The Forward Look, Policy v Reality, Where the new World Bank report “Breaking the Cycle of Roma Exclusion in the Western Balkans” was launched.

The first event in the European Parliament was the crucial Reality Check: Evaluating the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies, where results of the Roma Civil Monitor were discussed. ERGO Network’s advocacy and research coordinator Jelena Jovanovic highlighted good practices and shortcomings of measures combatting antigypsyism, and several civil society representatives gave an overview of their national monitoring reports.

On Tuesday evening, two award ceremonies celebrated individuals for their contribution to Roma inclusion: The European Civil Rights Prize for Sinti and Roma was awarded to the Slovak President Andrej Kiska, and 14 inspiring women activists received the EU Award for Roma Integration in the Western Balkans and Turkey under the theme ‘Unknown Heroes’. As a surprise during the Western Balkans award event, Soraya Post MEP received an award too, for her outstanding support to the fight against antigypsyism in the European Parliament.

On Wednesday, ERGO Network together with Cornelia Ernst MEP brought the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a tool to support the fight against antigypsyism to the agenda. The panel discussion was held together with Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), Sozialfabrik and Soraya Post MEP. The panellists discussed recommendations to civil society on how to use the 2030 Agenda, brought by ERGO Network in the new paper ‘Roma Included’.

The flagship event of the week was the conference ‘Creating trust through uncovering and recognising the truth: Advancing recognition and remedy for antigypsyism’, jointly hosted by Soraya Post MEP, the Central Council for German Sinti and Roma, Fundacion Secretariado Gitano (FSG), UN Human Rights Office in Europe, the Open Society European Policy Institute and ERGO Network. The stock-taking conference focussed on discussing the state-of-play and efforts to advance the fight against antigypsyism through truth, recognition, remedy, trust and reconciliation processes. It also gave voice to several survivors of acts of antigypsyism who shared their stories and highlighted the urgency to act against antigypsyism.

Members of the European Parliament from different political groups signed a pledge affirming that they will continue to work to achieve non-racist EU elections, an effective Post-2020 EU Roma Framework and a continuation of the fight against antigypsyism in the new legislative period. The undersigned MEPs pledged to create a European society in which Roma can access and enjoy their rights set in our Treaties, in which Roma can fulfil their true potential, in which dehumanisation of Roma is stopped, a healthy European society free from racism, such as antigypsyism – a Europe that we can be proud of.

Now it is time to let actions follow the words and spirit of cooperation conveyed during the week. We ask all participating institutions to fulfil the promises made during the Roma Week and work together for an effective EU Roma Framework and an increased fight against antigypsyism.

Credits photo on top: © European Union 2019 – EP/Didier BAUWERAERTS