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Europe Strives Toward Integration of Roma

The Roma are one of the largest ethnic groups in Europe, comprising approximately 12 million EU inhabitants.

They struggle with numerous issues, which include discriminatory acts, and the level of their integration with society as a whole is worryingly low.  This state of affairs constitutes a problem not only for Central-Eastern Europe EU member-states, but also for highly-developed Western European countries, as exemplified by France, where the recent large-scale deportation of Roma by French authorities has had a widespread impact.

It is indisputable that Roma are excluded from social life and activities.  Oftentimes, their idiosyncratic culture is misunderstood, a phenomenon which has manifested itself, for instance, in the bans on their itinerant mode of life that have been challenged by the European Court of Human Rights and run counter to the principle of the free movement of  people within the EU.  The difficulties in education encountered by the Roma are also commonplace: only 42% of Romani children complete primary school, whereas the EU average is 97.5%.  Although counterarguments stating that this fact is the result of Romani culture and their tendency to educate children at home are often voiced, taking into consideration the ostentatious dislike of the Roma and the acts of discrimination, and often outright racism, directed against them, it is not surprising that, on the other hand, the Roma are often discouraged from sending their children to public schools.  A further hindrance to the normal functioning of the national minority is their low level of access to public welfare; for instance, to housing and health care.

According to many sociologists professionally engaged in the challenges faced by the Roma, the solution do not rest with individual countries, but rather, with the European Union as a whole.  Even though many of the domains of social life– education, employment, and healthcare– fall into the scope of authority of the member-states, this does not mean that the EU has no say in this matter.  This conclusion has ramifications for the anti-discrimination policy that the EU is currently pursuing.  The present wording of Article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states that the Council of Europe “may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.”  In addition, EU citizenship plays a very large role in the issue.  The European Commission has [presented an official position statement] recognizing the Roma as EU citizens, who are authorized to make use of the rights due to them on the basis of their citizenship.

An example of the use of Article 19 of the TFEU in practice is Directive 2000/43/WE, issued on June 29, 2000, which enforces the principle of equal treatment of all people irrespective of their racial and ethnic origin.  The directive avers the prohibition of discrimination in domains such as employment, social security contributions, and public welfare, including housing and health care.  In addition, the European Commission has called on its member-states to draft national strategies for the integration of the Roma.  In practice, this means that each member state will be required to present plans to the Commission, in which they will specify the means by which they will seek to contribute to the achievement of EU aims on this issue, by the end of this year.

The primary aims proposed by the Commission are as follows: education (so that all Roma children will be able to complete, at minimum, a course of primary schooling), employment (a decrease in the disparity between the employment level of Roma and members of society as a whole), healthcare (a solution to the problems of lower life expectancy at birth and increased infant mortality rates, in relation to average levels, of Roma children), and housing (not only because the Roma tend to have inferior living conditions, but even due to their inferior access to basic public utilities, such as water and electricity).

The stated aims are a part of the broader Europe 2020 strategy for economic growth.  The sources of funding that the Council of Europe proposes be used for the project are EU funds  (for instance, the European Social Fund and the European Fund for Regional Development).  In addition, an interesting idea is the implementation of a monitoring mechanism based on statistical measurement of the plan’s results on the socioeconomic situation of the Roma, with the participation of the Fundamental Rights Agency, as well as other agencies.  Education intended to promote the spirit of tolerance and openness to foreign cultures is also important in meeting the aims of the plan, as no culture is inherently better or worse than any other; they are just different.

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