ERGO meets EC desk officers

ERGO members meet European Commission desk officers

On 10 September 2020, the European Roma Grassroots Organisations (ERGO) Network facilitated an online exchange meeting between its national members in 5 key countries (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia) and their counterparts in the country desks of DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) and DG Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO).

The meeting served as a space to update each other on the preparation of National Roma Integration Strategies in the specific countries, as well as on Roma participation in the process of designing measures to target Roma under the European Funds. The participants also discussed the possibility to introduce Roma indicators in the funds, connecting them better with the Roma strategies. Finally, in view of the upcoming European Semester Country Reports 2021, the European Commission urged ERGO Network members to feed Roma realities and proposals, in particular with a view to the pandemic and recovery.

ERGO Network director Gabriela Hrabanova pointed out that the exchange was very timely, as we are now living a crucial moment where dots need to be connected to ensure that Roma rights and inclusion are delivered on. She stressed the importance of having a Roma-specific indicator, to ensure that the impact of measures and funds on Roma communities can be measured, and lessons learned. Investment is also needed in civil society, to build capacity and strong coalitions in order to effectively put forward the voice of the Roma. She reminded that ERGO Network is also actively monitoring the European Semester and wishes to see better alignment between these processes and the EU Roma Strategic Framework.

ERGO Network members expressed their concerns regarding the situation in their countries. For Bulgaria, Liliya Makaveeva and Kadrin Hasanov from Integro Association, stressed that civil society organisations were not involved in the consultation processes for the elaboration of the post-2020 National Roma Integration Strategy. The situation was better when it came to the working groups for most Operational Programmes, where civil society is present and can put forward proposals – even if those are not always taken into account. It is equally important to ensure that the Roma feature prominently in the upcoming Country Reports 2021.

In Czech Republic, Michal Miko from RomanoNet, Jelena Silajdžić from Slovo 21, and Nikola Taragoš from Romodrom agreed that they felt that their country was on the right path to have a good Strategy with positive measures, although there is always room for improvement. For the first time, Roma NGOs and the Roma Council are able to negotiate with different ministries to achieve good quality Operational Programmes, and hopefully deliver real inclusion for the Roma in the Czech Republic.

For Hungary, András Nun from Autonómia Foundation and Melinda Kassai from Butterfly Development informed that, unfortunately, civil society is not being involved in any process, and drafts have not been shared. The state of democracy in Hungary is dire, and civil society is systematically disempowered and kept out. There are no open calls, funding is allocated behind closed doors, without competition, participation, or transparency. A few well connected actors receive all the opportunities.

For Romania, Florin Botonogu from the Policy Center for Roma and Minorities and Daniel Grebeldinger from Nevo Parudimos indicated that the next national Strategy looks like a good document on paper, and – very importantly – has budgetary allocations attached. Civil society has been very involved in the drafting process, this was the closest cooperation in the history of the national Strategy. Both organisations have closely followed both this process, as well as the consultations around EU funds, which was however a much poorer engagement process. It was very difficult to ensure the delivery of Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) during the pandemic, as .community participation was not feasible in online meetings.

For Slovakia, Zuzana Havírová from the Roma Advocacy and Research Center shared that the country now had a new Head of the Plenipotentiary Officer for Roma Communities, which means that the process for the preparation of the Strategy was much more open to Roma people and the civil society organisations working with them than previously. This is a very encouraging step, however more can be done to improve participation, ownership, and transparency.  

Konstantinos Niafas, from the Romanian desk in DG REGIO, noted the process of regionalisation currently taking place in Romania, which means that some of the EU Funds will be channelled through regional Operational Programmes in the next programming period. While the negotiation processes for the planning of the period 2021-2027 are ongoing, there is a parallel open channel to discuss the recovery and resilience funds, a process which is still being designed. The Commission is hoping to receive the National Recovery Plans from Member States by October – this is a process coordinated by the Secretariat General of the European Commission, together with DG ECFIN. However, he stated, a lot of coordination was needed, with all these processes taking place at the same time, so such exchange meetings are welcome.

Ştefan Păduraru, working in the Romanian desk in DG EMPL, also noted that addressing the needs of disadvantaged communities, including Roma, was an important priority for the European Commission in the ongoing negotiations on the next programming period. As these negotiations are not finalised, however, it would be difficult to comment on specific future interventions. Grassroots organisations such as the ERGO Network members are encouraged to proactively contribute to this process through, for example, the consultation process undertaken by the Romanian authorities on the draft Operational Programmes.

Pavel Tychtl, working for the Czech Republic desk in DG EMPL, highlighted that sensitive, intelligent solutions needed to be found at both EU and national level to collect disaggregated information on Roma without infringing data privacy. This would enable having a concrete and specific indicator, which would allow all parties to evaluate the impact of the measures. It is important to keep in place the explicit, but not exclusive, principle when designing specific Roma targeted measures. Regarding civil society engagement in the Czech Republic, the overall feeling is that there is good cooperation, relevant actors work together. Even where voices are diverse, the message is strengthened. Information from the ground is incredibly appreciated and valuable, and national meetings are also open to civil society actors.

Andor Ürmös, from DG REGIO, stressed that the debate on a Roma-specific indicator was a very important one, as such as indicator would help improve Roma participation in the big Programmes. However, he expressed concern that such an indicator, if used improperly, might lead to segregation, and that social and economic inclusion of the Roma would be seen as a separate side-process.

After the opening plenary, participants split into breakout rooms according to countries, in order to be able to exchange bilaterally more in detail about specific national concerns. Some of these bilateral discussions during the meeting have led to the setting up of more such follow-up meetings, so that the two sides can keep each other involved.

Once participants reconvened once more in the main virtual room, Jamen Gabriela Hrabaňová, ERGO Network Director, ended the meeting by reassuring desk officers that ERGO Network national members and staff stand committed, willing, and able to provide all necessary input and feedback from their work directly at grassroots level, to make sure that the voice of the Roma is being heard.

New volunteer in the ERGO team

New European Solidarity Corps volunteer in ERGO Network

Welcome, Izabela!

The ERGO Network secretariat team is getting bigger! This week our new European Solidarity Corps volunteer Izabela Tiberiade from Romania joined us in Brussels. She will stay one year with us to learn more about how we work and support all our work areas.

Here is how Izabela describes herself:

My name is Izabela Tiberiade and I come from a traditional Rromani family in Craiova, southern Romania. Due to my background, I have struggled tremendously to get an education and to overcome a multitude of stereotypes, both from within my community and on behalf of the non-Roma majority.

I am joining the ERGO Network today as an undergraduate in Human Rights at the University of Malmo, Sweden. It is with real excitement and curiosity that I anticipate the encounter between the real world and the knowledge I accumulated from the university courses. Therefore, my apprenticeship at ERGO Network represents the start of a journey in search of an understanding that leads to the actions which my people, and many other excluded groups, need so urgently.

In my free time, I am an avid reader of fiction and nonfiction alike, and I have tried my hand at writing myself. Reading and writing have provided me with a passage to a parallel world where the various troubles that encroached my people disappeared into the imagination. Likewise, I tremendously enjoy learning new languages, which also give me a glimpse of other peoples and other ways of thinking, and this has always fascinated me.

New Solutions to Old Problems

New solutions to old problems – exchange of new type of approaches in the field of Roma integration

Over 1 million Euros allocated for Roma civil society empowerment

A new project of our network has been approved for funding through the EEA and Norway Grants for Regional Cooperation: New solutions to old problems – exchange of new type of approaches in the field of Roma integration (2018-1-0697) focuses on the priority sectors social inclusion, youth employment and poverty reduction and started in August 2020.

The project brings together ERGO Network members from EEA/Norway Grants beneficiary states, in total 11 partners or one third of all ERGO members! While the project will be led by Nevo Parudimos from Romania, other partners are coming from Lithuania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania, Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

The ERGO Network secretariat will support the overall coordination and management of the project and will lead on its EU advocacy activities.

“New Solutions to old Problems” (NSOP) aims at supporting Roma communities in adapting and implementing inclusion and empowerment projects that have already been tried and tested successfully by other partners. At the same time we want to create a more favourable environment for bottom-up approaches to Roma integration, breaking the vicious circle of cynicism that ‘nothing can be changed’.

There has been progress in identifying the causes of social exclusion of Roma, but when it comes to designing solutions, we face a general paralysis on how to tackle the multi-layered challenges. Top down approaches – developed far from the communities – leave little room for innovation. Practitioners agree that grassroots approaches work and bring good results for social inclusion and human rights, but most donors are still reluctant to support such small-scale initiatives.

The results of the project will be partly tangible, partly intangible and are linked to the three work packages Peer2Peer Partnerships, Capacity-Building and Advocacy:

  1. Promoting community-led projects:
  • 10 projects based on community needs that have been identified as good practices in other organisations are adapted and implemented
  • 20-30 good practice examples of local Roma inclusion and empowerment projects are identified and disseminated with ideas for adaptation and upscaling
  • Roma community organising and Roma civil society promoted through film and story-telling
  1. Increased capacity of Roma CSOs:
  • Staff of Roma CSOs trained in project and organisational management
  • Toolkit on project and organisational management for CSOs published
  • Transparency and accountability criteria implemented by CSOs
  1. Favorable funding environment:
  • Study on importance of bottom-up approaches to Roma inclusion produced and disseminated
  • Analysis of funding programmes on Roma inclusion conducted and disseminated
  • Donors more aware of the importance of bottom-up approaches to Roma inclusion

Check out the project website for more information and follow our facebook page for updates!

Call for revised Council Recommendation on Roma

In the context of the adoption of the new EU Strategic Framework on Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation by the European Commission, ERGO Network has sent a letter to the European Council, the German EU Presidency and the European Commission to call for the adoption of a revised Council Recommendation on Roma under the German Presidency and to share ERGO Network’s recommendations for essential elements and thematic targets of a strong Post 2020 Framework.

 

Dear President of the European Council, Mr Charles Michel,

Dear Federal Minister of the Interior of Germany, Mr Horst Seehofer,

Dear Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Mr Hubertus Heil,

Dear Commissioner for Equality, Ms Helena Dalli,

26 August 2020

In the context of the adoption of the new EU Strategic Framework on Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation by the European Commission, ERGO Network would like to welcome the initiative of the European Commission to accelerate and revise the Council Recommendation on Roma and call on the German Presidency to adopt it without delay during the German Presidency chairmanship of the EPSCO Council.

While we have been supporting, as you know, a binding EU Strategic Framework for Roma equality, inclusion and participation, we are aware of the lack of political feasibility of such an initiative at this present times. We reiterate therefore the important role of the German Presidency, and the European Commission in ensuring that the future EU Roma Framework and national Roma strategies include common minimum standards and targets combating structural and systemic antigypsyism and discrimination and ensure equality of rights and access to goods and services, in line with EU law and policies and international human rights commitments endorsed by all EU Member States. We consider that in line with its priorities on overcoming the consequences of the coronavirus crisis for the long-term as well as economic and social recovery, should actively promote the boosting of the Roma inclusion process, across all the EU Member States, by initiating the discussions in the Council working groups, leading to the adoption of a Council Recommendation on Roma.

With view to the upcoming European Commission Communication on the EU Roma Framework and the Council Recommendation, we take the opportunity to share with you our contribution for the two policy processes.

We count on your commitment and tenacity to keep these items high on your agenda and your negotiations with Member States.

I remain at your disposal, should you have further inquiries.

Gabriela Hrabanova,

Director, ERGO Network

 

Download the letter.

Download the Annex: Essential elements and thematic targets 2020 EU Roma Framework

2 August – Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma

“75 years since liberation and a lesson unlearnt! Antigypsyism is still alive and present in our society.”

On 2 August 1944, over 4,300 Sinti and Roma were murdered in the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were taken during the night from their barracks to the gas chamber by SS guards, who only months earlier had been driven back by the fierce resistance of the Romani prisoners fighting with nothing but picks and shovels. Every year on this tragic day, Sinti and Roma around the world come together to commemorate the more than 500,000 Romani people who were murdered in camps, fields, and unmarked trenches all across Europe during WWII. 

Although Roma have been part of Europe for centuries, our narratives and contributions to European societies remain largely ignored and on the margins of what European history should be representing, namely united through diversity.

75 years have passed since the end of World War II, but children are still not learning about the Sinti and Roma Holocaust in school. Historical facts about the persecution of Romani people throughout centuries remain unknown and ignored by governments, the media and society at large. The historical responsibility for seeking the truth and reconcile, to recognize what has been done to the Sinti and Roma is only very slowly being taken up by governments.

The lessons of World War II are unlearnt when it comes to the Roma. We are still facing antigypsyism, discrimination, hate speech and exclusion. Prejudices and stereotypes related to our ethnicity remain the primary obstacle in our efforts for an equal start and treatment and in the exercise of our fundamental rights and obligations.

Europe is facing a real challenge to respond to the rise of antigypsyism, which is accelerating in the current crisis.  Roma in Europe are more likely to live in poverty than the majority population, have a higher risk of unemployment and have poorer health. They are exposed to racism (with, in some countries, one third to half the population not wanting to work with Roma colleagues), and are more often victims of police brutality. Locked in ghettos supposedly due to Covid-19 safety measures, we became even more targets of populism and hatred, largely ignored by policymakers in Europe.

Today, with the rise of racism and far-right movements across Europe and the world, raising awareness of the Roma Holocaust is urgently necessary. We need recognition, remembrance and commemoration of the Sinti and Roma Holocaust in order to learn for the future by remembering the past, and we need to act in the presence to prevent the past from ever happening again in the future. Ignorance and denial of the Holocaust of Roma and Sinti, as of any other event in the history of a nation, prevents opportunities to learn about each other, from each other; and to set out together on a path of mutual trust, respect and understanding.

This is our world; we must avoid that it is becoming a community of fear and hatred, instead we should strive to be a proud and equal society of mutual respect of all!

On the occasion of the commemoration of the European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, we as ERGO Network join the efforts of the European Roma Holocaust Remembrance Coalition and call on governments and the international community to:

  • Formally recognize the 2nd August as the official Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma;
  • Build, honor and preserve monuments and memorial sites dedicated to the Sinti and Roma victims of the Holocaust;
  • Invest into museums, research centers and other institutions dedicated to Roma Holocaust, Roma History and Roma Culture;
  • Make Roma history and culture part of educational curricula and textbook;
  • Acknowledge antigypsyism as a specific form of racism targeting Roma communities and adapt diverse preventive and reactive tools to fight it.