Social Economy and Roma Inclusion in times of Covid-19

Social Economy and Roma Inclusion in times of Covid-19

ERGO Network Annual Public Conference with Social Economy Europe and the European Parliament Intergroup on Social Economy

This past 17 November, ERGO Network organised its annual public event, together with Social Economy Europe and the European Parliament Intergroup on Social Economy. This year’s conference, which took place online, was dedicated to exploring the key potential of the social and solidarity economy to positively contribute to Roma equality, inclusion and participation, particularly in a pandemic and post-pandemic context. 

Europe is facing an unprecedented social and economic crisis, brought about by the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Many Europeans have lost their incomes, their homes, their security, and even their loved ones, but Roma communities throughout the continent have been particularly hard hit. Because of its explicit objective to contribute to better social and economic inclusion and improved societal outcomes, particularly for vulnerable groups, social economy can play a key role in ensuring equal eights and wellbeing for Roma communities in the recovery process in different countries.

The online conference served as the formal launch of ERGO Network’s position paper “The role of Social Economy in supporting Roma social and economic inclusion in the Covid-19 pandemic and recovery”, rooted in an extensive data collection exercise across ERGO Network’s national membership. The Key Messages of the paper, presented at the conference, are:

  1. Legislative framework prioritising social goals over financial gain and promoting sustainability
  2. Meaningful partnerships supporting Roma participation and ownership
  3. The Roma named explicitly as target group for social economy interventions
  4. Fostering Roma social entrepreneurship through awareness and training
  5. Access to stable, dedicated, transparent funding
  6. An economy based on solidarity that works for all, including for Roma

The event equally aimed to showcase concrete good practices of Roma- and Traveller-led social enterprises on the ground, as well as to put forward positive ways to ensure that the potential of social economy to support Roma inclusion is placed at the heart of recovery packages and the upcoming Action Plan on Social Economy and Social Innovation, in full alignment with the recently released EU Roma Strategic Framework.

The event was very well attended with almost 100 participants, and it brought together ERGO Network and Social Economy Europe national members from the grassroots level in many European countries, as well as other national practitioners, European civil society organisations, EU policy-makers from the European Parliament and the European Commission, and other stakeholders.

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See more:
Agenda of the event

Full recording of the Facebook livestream

ERGO Network position paper

Conference Report

Photo album


For more information about this event, or about ERGO Network’s work on social economy, please don’t hesitate to contact us:

Meeting with Cabinet of Commissioner Nicolas Schmit

ERGO Network delegation meets Cabinet of European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit

On 5 November 2020, the European Roma Grassroots Organisations (ERGO) Network facilitated an online exchange meeting between its national members and Ms Anouk Faber and Mr Christoph Nerlich, members of the cabinet of European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit (DG EMPL).

The objectives of the meeting were:

  • How to create positive synergies between the new EU Roma Strategic Framework and the European Green Deal, Next Generation EU, and the Multi-Annual Financial Framework 2021-2027?
  • How to ensure that the upcoming Action Plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights delivers on Roma inclusion, equality, and participation?
  • How can ERGO Network support your work and feed Roma perspectives from the grassroots level, also in light of the adapted European Semester?

During the meeting, ERGO Network Director Jamen Gabriela Hrabanova and Senior Policy Adviser Amana Ferro presented our work on social policy across a number of files which fall under the competence of DG Employment, such as the European Semester, the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Youth Guarantee, Child Guarantee, the MFF, the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as social economy and minimum income. They stressed the need to better integrate the EU Roma Strategic Framework in mainstream initiatives like the European GreenDeal and the recovery packages, and reaffirmed ERGO Network’s readiness and commitment to support the European Commission, as well as national Governments, in its efforts to promote Roma equality, inclusion, and participation.

Our members Katalin Nagy (Butterfly Development, HU), Pedro Aguilera (Federation of Roma Associations in Catalonia, ES), and Adriatik Hasantari (Roma Active Albania, AL) spoke about how the upcoming Social Economy Action Plan and the reinforced Youth Guarantee can be very useful tools to contribute towards reducing the gap between Roma and majority populations, as well as about the importance of including the Western Balkans and Enlargement and Neighbourhood Countries in the learning and exchanges about Roma inclusion in Europe.

Cabinet members Ms Faber and Mr Nerlich confirmed Commissioner Nicolas Schmit’s commitment to Roma rights and inclusion and exchanged with ERGO Network members and staff about the best ways to engage with the above-mentioned policy frameworks in order to ensure a strong Roma dimension in Europe’s social and economic development strategies, as well as drew the attention to the key role of EU Funds (including InvestEU and ReactEu) to support these processes. However, they cautioned, a lot lies in adequate implementation, and civil society organisations have a key role to play in promoting the partnership principle in both funds and policy making, to ensure that the right priorities are being chosen and that the funds reach the most in need, including disadvantaged Roma communities.

ERGO Network hopes that this meeting marked the beginning of a fruitful cooperation with the Cabinet of Commissioner Schmit, and will continue to engage very closely with DG Employment on these issues.

Find the full meeting of the report here.

For more information, please contact Senior Policy Adviser Amana Ferro in the ERGO Network Brussels Secretariat.

Reinforced Youth Guarantee – will Roma youth be included?

The Council of the EU adopts a recommendation for more inclusive measures to boost youth employment by reinforcing the Youth Guarantee – Will Roma youth be included?!

On 30th of October, the Council of the European Union adopted by unanimity a Recommendation on ‘A Bridge to Jobs – Reinforcing the Youth Guarantee’.  The new scheme affirms the upcoming commitment of the EU Members States to set national schemes in order to help young people receive an offer of employment, education, traineeship or apprenticeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This initiative comes at an urgent time across the EU, during the COVID 19 pandemic, which brought high youth unemployment rates and increased the number of young people not in employment, education, or training (NEETs). Even before the crises Roma youth which as it shown in the last data issued by Fundamental Rights Agency 63% of Roma aged 16-24 were not employed, in education or training (55% of young Roma men and 72% of young Roma women

This is not a new initiative, it follows the EU Council Recommendation of 22 April 2013 on establishing a Youth Guarantee, which numerous studies and ERGO research showed that failed to reach its full potential nor to include the most disadvantaged groups, such as Roma youth.

What is new?

The new Recommendation is considering the concerns of youth organizations and tackles some of the gaps in its implementation, identified as well by ERGO Network. The Recommendation extends the age limit for targeted young people from 25 to up to 29 years old. The new Recommendation also clearly state that the Members States should create supportive measures at national, regional, and local level by providing clear guidelines such as:

  • mapping – identifying target groups, available services, skills needs and young people at risk of becoming a NEET
  • outreach – targeted information campaigns among young people and reaching out to NEETs
  • preparation – better profiling to match needs and responses, counselling, and guidance, and improving digital and other important skills
  • offer – employment incentives, quality and equity, and post-placement support

Now is the moment to make sure that the Member States include the voice of the most deprived in the implementation of the Youth Guarantee, and that they  take into account the situation of Roma youth. One of the main concerns when it comes to the Roma youth is the outreach offer and preparation in a time of pandemic, where many times the ones that need to be a priority are left out due to centuries of discrimination and low standards of education, which is the result of ongoing poverty cycles.

ERGO Network asks Member States to:

  • Invest in continued education (and training): enrolment in formal education or training programs leading to a recognized qualification, keeping in mind an individual approach.
  • Train employment officers and employers to fight antigypsyism: There is a need to train the employment offices as well as potential employers on historical and present antigypsyism, specially to counter the phenomenon during the recruitment process.
  • Improve cooperation between young Roma and labor offices: Governments should encourage a closer communication between labor offices and young Roma people and their civil society representatives, to increase the number of Roma youth engaged with activation programs
  • Hire Roma mediators as social workers/employees of the public employment services and local authorities with the main file and aim to assist Roma youngsters to access the initiatives under the Youth Guarantee, to ensure individual empowerment and ownership.
  • Take a holistic approach: Programs should be created to directly fight youth unemployment with an embraced holistic and multi-sectoral approach, in line with the Active Inclusion Recommendation. Efforts to support young people towards quality education and employment should be complemented by access to adequate income and services such as housing, transport etc
  • A more flexible and accessible registration process of public employment services, to ensure that no young person falls through the gaps and remains out of the social systems of their country – a situation young Roma often find themselves in
  • More partnerships with educational institutions and NGOs who can more easily reach out to Roma and other marginalized groups. This requires dedicated funding that will allow these partners to support the public employment services in the delivery of the Youth Guarantee, or to directly establish contacts with employers and support the skills development of young people.

It will now be up to the Member States to implement the Reinforced Youth Guarantee. We will continue the monitoring and advocating for young Roma people to have quality opportunities through this initiative, on equal footing with majority youth.

For additional information regarding our work on the Youth Guarantee and Youth Employment, please contact Policy Officer Carmen Tănasie in the ERGO Network staff (

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Roma

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Roma and how to be prepared for the next crisis

Presentation during the High-level Conference launching the EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation until 2030 by Adriatik Hasantari, Roma Active Albania, Vice-chair ERGO Network (12 October 2020)

During August and September 2020, ERGO Network and its members conducted a survey on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Roma in seven EU Member States, and together with Roma Active Albania in six enlargement countries. Preliminary findings show that during the first wave of Covid-19, entire Roma and Traveller communities in all selected countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey) were deeply affected in all areas of life, including regarding basic needs, housing and accommodation, education, health care, employment, poverty, and freedom from discrimination and antigypsyism. Roma women were disproportionately affected, particularly pregnant women, mothers with young children and the elderly.

Our study confirms that in the early stages of the pandemic, many governments implemented unequal and unfair lockdowns of Roma communities in Bulgaria, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, despite not having any confirmed cases in these communities. Across all surveyed countries, Roma were faced with starvation after losing their income and the possibility to leave their houses to buy food. Our respondents reported that in general authorities did not provide them with masks, disinfectants and food while in lockdown or confinement.

In Hungary, children did not any longer receive previously offered free school meals, and had difficulties to learn at distance in the absence of school materials, digital equipment, electricity, or internet access. Because of overcrowding and inadequate housing conditions, many Roma families living in settlements were crammed in one single room with no means to follow preventive and sanitary measures. Our study confirmed that many Roma throughout the EU, Western Balkans and Turkey lost their jobs because of the lockdown, especially those working abroad who had to return home and did not benefit from state aid. Roma felt discriminated by the lack of action from state officials and service providers in the areas of education, healthcare, employment and state aid.

What lessons can be drawn to be better prepared for future crises?

The data collected by ERGO Network and other NGOs so far confirms without a doubt that the pandemic affected Roma and Travellers disproportionally, particularly those living in socially excluded and marginalised settings both within the EU and Enlargement countries. COVID-19 is an additional challenge to the daily exclusion and discrimination that they had already faced on a daily basis previous to the pandemic.

The pandemic revealed gaps in the approach of local authorities and governments to deal with vulnerable groups and with Roma. Exceptional cases may exist in some countries when it comes to humanitarian aid provided as one off measures. It was, however, mostly NGOs who stepped in to provide support on a regular basis.

If we learnt something from the first wave of Covid-19, it is that we simply cannot afford to be unprepared and to allow EU Member States and Enlargement countries to enter into a new crisis unscrutinised and without any concrete plans, measures and funding in place. Now more than even we need to think preventively and not reactively to what is in front of us. The EU and its Presidency have to put aside an investment package dedicated to vulnerable groups to support poor families, small and medium sized enterprises, and solo workers. The Directive for universal minimum income must be prioritised and accelerated.

The 2020 “EU Strategic Framework for Roma must be accompanied by a strong EU Council Recommendation demanding Member States to put a specific focus on humanitarian aid and a 10-year plan to fight structural racism and inequality at the centre of their policies and strategies, delivering basic services and infrastructure in Roma communities, viable solutions in the areas of education, employment, health, social protection and poverty, putting an end to forced evictions, segregation in education and housing, homelessness, hate speech, racist crime and police brutality – in order to guarantee a level playing field in the access to basic rights and services. It is clear that if we are to overcome this upcoming crisis, governments have to set higher targets and increase the scope of interventions beyond what it is in the new EU Framework, for all the countries.

The Fundamental Rights Agency has reported many times that Roma are the only European population living in absolutely inhumane conditions, in appalling and total housing deprivation. This resonates 10 times more during the  Covid-19 pandemic. There should be no pretense that all governments must put their efforts into putting an end to segregation in housing, into providing running water, electricity and garbage collection. Governments must invest in safe and green housing, including social housing for all those living in shacks, shanty towns, unsafe and inhumane conditions.

All supposedly good intentions by the EU did so far not translate into specific funding for vulnerable groups under major post 2020 EU funding and programmes. This is a failure for the human rights agenda, as the coming decade could be the most challenging for all livelihood throughout Europe and across the world. Competing interests and challenges will yet again leave those vulnerable overlooked and at the margins. This needs to change. The EU needs to change its approach towards governments and lead Europe towards substantive equality where no Roma is left behind. All EU funding, with no exception, should by default target vulnerable groups and Roma, in line with the EU’s own principles and standards.

Anti-Roma rhetoric increased significantly during the pandemic, even blaming Roma for spreading the coronavirus. NGOs tried to warn policy-makers about the dangers of antigypsyism going unrecognised and unpunished. Instead of taking these warnings seriously, many governments curtail human rights of minorities during this crisis. The EU proved to be weak and powerless with its tools and enforcement mechanisms against discrimination and racial violence.

Going forward, the EU has to set a better example for governments and their duties to uphold the rule of law and human rights and be quicker and firmer in sanctioning racist governments.


Case studies: Experiences of Roma individuals and communities during the pandemic.



Dream to Grow

Dream to grow: How to make Europe’s labor markets a place for all

Co-hosted by: European Roma Grassroots Organizations Network (ERGO) and the Romani Early Years Network (REYN), an initiative of ISSA – the International Step by Step Association

October 7th, 14:00 – 16:00 CET

  • Find the agenda and catalogue of human books here.
  • Sign up here to receive access to the online event.

Although almost ten years have passed since the adoption of the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies, Roma remain widely exposed to antigypsyism, poverty and social exclusion without opportunities to access proper education, employment, or training. They keep facing unequal treatment and inequalities in health, education, employment, and living conditions, a gap which has continued to widen following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

63% of Roma aged 16-24 are not employed, in education or training (55% of young Roma men and 72% of young Roma women) and 40% of Roma report feeling discriminated at work! Even if they manage to secure employment, they often continue to face lower wages, precarious and atypical contracts, a lack of career options, and direct discrimination and harassment of employers and colleagues.

Eliminating such inequalities and promoting positive models of inclusion and diversity starting from the very beginning of life must be a priority not only for EU and national policy makers, but also for every person in Europe. Diversity does not only benefit minorities, but also impacts greatly on the quality of services offered and on society.

Acknowledging that it is fundamental to rewrite the current narrative about Roma and restore their dignity and pride, this event aspires to share inspiring stories highlighting Roma professionals’ different pathways to become who they are today and showing the difference that enabling, inclusive and diverse educational and working environments can make for society.

Why should you join this event:

  • Get inspired by real-life stories of Roma professionals who have succeeded to break the wall of prejudices and stereotypes and realized their dreams by participating in the online Human Library.
  • Learn about the advocacy efforts civil society organizations are doing to ensure equity, inclusion and diversity in education and at work.
  • Reflect together about the multilayered challenges and unequal treatment young Roma are facing in Europe and the long-term consequences of political inaction.
  • Benefit from lessons learned in implementing inclusive policies and practices and discover how to become part of the solution.

This event receives funding from the European Union. The information contained reflects only the author’s view; and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

This event is co-funded by the Open Society Foundations Early Childhood Program. The program has been providing continous support to the Romani Early Years Network initiative since its start.