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.

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

The role of Social Economy in supporting Roma social and economic inclusion

ERGO Network position paper: The role of Social Economy in supporting Roma social and economic inclusion in a Covid-19 context

Directly to the position paper.

Europe and the world are facing an unprecedented social and economic shock, brought about by the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many Europeans have lost their incomes, their homes, their security, and even their loved ones. In this context, Roma communities throughout the continent have been particularly hard hit, having to face, in addition to the above, a sharp rise in both popular and institutional antigypsyism, as well as police brutality and numerous breaches of their human rights. The road to healing and recovery will be long and difficult for all, but it will be particularly challenging for those already facing extreme hardship, poverty, and social exclusion, such as Europe’s Roma. However, social economy can support better Roma inclusion, wellbeing and participation, as well as trust-building with the majority community.

Traditional business models are based on a philosophy of maximising profit (or return on investment), which is then distributed to investors or owners (shareholders). Conversely, social economy is a model where the profit is entirely reinvested in the expansion of the enterprise, and/or used to finance social inclusion and community development projects. Because of its explicit objective to contribute to improved societal outcomes particularly for vulnerable groups, and because of its bottom-up, community-rooted approach based on ownership, social economy can play a key role in ensuring social and economic inclusion, equal rights, and wellbeing for Roma communities in the post Covid-19 recovery process.

The social economy sector has already proved its exceptional resilience during the previous economic crisis, and it is now, fittingly, back in focus in the European discourse. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has entrusted Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, with the development of an Action Plan on Social Economy. This is a key opportunity to ensure that social economy is used as a powerful and effective tool to deliver Roma inclusion on the ground, not least in a post-pandemic context.

This position paper is rooted in the direct experience of ERGO Network national members, Roma and pro-Roma civil society organisations working at grassroots level in European countries. It aims at exploring the positive interplay between the role of social economy in today’s development models and Roma rights and inclusion. It reviews what is needed at national level in order to build strong, sustainable social economy enterprises, which contribute in a positive way to the social and economic inclusion of Europeans of Romani origin across the continent, as a number of good practices from different national contexts, in the Annex.

The publication will be launched in the framework of ERGO Network’s annual public policy event, to be organised in November together with Social Economy Europe and the Social Economy Intergroup in the European Parliament – more details will follow soon.

Access the position paper here.

For more information about ERGO Network’s work on social economy and about the upcoming public policy event, please contact Amana Ferro, Senior Policy Adviser in the ERGO Network Brussels team.

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