With 10 million Roma people in the European Union and levels of employment and poverty disproportionately high among them, MEPs on Thursday voted on a European strategy to try and improve the lives of the Roma community. Often discrimination in jobs and schooling are just some of the problems that Roma people face in Europe. Ahead of the vote we spoke to Hungarian MEP's of Roma origin Lívia Járóka and Viktória Mohácsi about the strategy and the situation of the Roma in Europe today.
It is estimated that there are 10 million Roma in the EU. This makes them more numerous than the population of 14 of the Union's 27 members. Roma communities are mainly based in Romania, Bulgaria or in Hungary. In the last four years all these states have joined the EU pushing the issue up the political agenda. Roma often suffer from racial discrimination, poverty and social exclusion.
Ahead of the vote we put some questions to the two MEPs:
The draft resolution recognizes "that the social inclusion of Romani communities is still a goal to be achieved". Why hasn’t this been the case yet?
Viktória Mohácsi (Liberal ALDE) told us that "while Member States recognize the need of integration of Roma, most of them are not taking responsibility for creating steps to solve the problems".
She went on to say that "the lack of minority policy of the EU could also be a possible reason: some countries recognise the Roma as a minority, some of them declare that all people have the same rights according to the constitutions".
LíviaJáróka (EPP-ED): "The successful integration of Europe's youngest and most rapidly thriving minority shouldn't fall victim of narrow-minded party politics, since it would be a national, moreover an all-European interest. Unfortunately parties are afraid of losing their voters by bringing up the Roma issue and also the civil movements are too weak, so there is no real Roma representation".
In many States Roma live in slums and are can be even expelled from the country. What can be done to provide better living conditions?
LíviaJáróka: "The appearance of large migrant groups in Western Europe is the complete failure of the states that they have left. Roma and also non-Roma migrants leave their countries, because of the terrible situation they have to face, namely segregated living conditions and segregated education-systems as well as poverty and social exclusion. Roma people see the country they live in as their motherland and they want to contribute to their societies as well".
"The European Parliament has sent a clear answer when it adopted the resolution on free movement, on November 14, 2007", says Viktória Mohácsi. (This resolution "reaffirm" the value of the free movement of persons as a fundamental principle of the European Union” and advocate the establishment of a network of organisations dealing with the social inclusion of Roma as well as the promotion of awareness-raising instruments regarding the rights and duties of the Roma community).
Ms Mohácsi told us that "in some Member States ignoring the fact that free movement is basic principle for the Roma also. That's why this resolution on European Roma Strategy reflecting on the case of housing is important".
One of the concrete solutions proposed would be micro-credit: can you explain why it can be a solution?
LíviaJáróka: "I believe that a properly elaborated micro-credit scheme might be an important instrument for the empowerment of excluded communities, as the example of Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank (which won the 2006 Nobel peace prize) shows. Micro-credit might be the only tool that can replace usury which is one of the greatest problems within Roma communities".
"In most countries, the unemployment rates amongst Romani communities are still higher than 80%, because of exclusion from the education system. Micro-credit scheme could be one of the adequate possibilities to promote self-employment" says Mohácsi.
Do we need a more collective, pan-European effort to tackle Roma issues?
"Only 5 Member States (out of 27) created an action plan for the integration of Roma but we still do not have a result. Life long learning, anti-discrimination, right to education has to be established on the level of most excluded group of people, too, says Mohácsi.
LíviaJáróka: "This plan should identify and effectively address the practical barriers that Roma face by accessing their unalienable fundamental rights in the fields of housing, employment, health care and education".
Thursday's vote on draft Resolution follows up plenary debate of 16 January 2008 on steps planned to improve the situation of the Roma.
Before anything else we need for the European Union and the European Parliament and its MEPs and officers to understand the very fact that not all of the Romani People are Roma, despite the fact what the idiots with a hidden agenda pedal.
The Sinti and the Cale are separate Romani Nations; separate from the Roma. While we may have a related Culture we do not have an entirely common Culture as there are cultural practices of the Roma that are foreign to the Sinti and the Cale, such as child marriage and bride price. While this is basically the same for all Roma groups the Sinti and the Cale know no bride price, no child marriage and also, basically, no haggled arranged marriage. But that is all that I am prepared to say about the differences, as much does not belong into the world of the Gadje. Suffice to say that there are profound cultural differences twixt Sinti and Cale one the one side and Roma on the other. So we cannot, therefore, that is the Sinti and the Cale, be a tribe of the Roma. Dosta penauas!
Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008