« All forms of discrimination remain unacceptable. The Union and the Member States must make a concerted effort to fully integrate vulnerable groups, in particular the Roma community, into society by promoting their inclusion in the education system and labour market and by taking action to prevent violence against them. For this purpose, Member States should ensure that the existing legislation is properly applied to tackle potential discrimination. The Union will offer practical support and promote best practice to help Member States achieve this. Civil society will have a special role to play.” Stockholm programme, section 2.3.3
The Roma population (encompassing a variety of groups like the Sinti, Ashkali, Travellers, Manouches, etc.) living in Europe ranges from an estimated 8 to 12 million. They have been an integral part of Europe for more than five hundred years. However, all over the continent, they face social exclusion and discrimination in many areas, notably housing, health, education or employment. Roma are often victims of forced evictions, racist attacks and police ill-treatment, be it in Central and Eastern Europe or in Western Europe.Many communities are marginalized through poverty, social ills and physical isolation.
Why have policies concerning Roma “integration” failed and how can efficient policies be designed with imput from the Roma people themselves? How can the European Union act so that the Romas are not considered anymore as „a problem for European integration”, but as a vector of integration? What does the EU do –and what could it do more– to ensure equal rights for all of its citizens? On a local level, how can the living conditions of the Romas concretely be improved?
To respond to these challenges, European Alternatives will be holding a series of citizens’ panel discussions, bringing together a diverse mix of European citizens and representatives of civil society to discuss Roma rights. The following themes will be approached :
- Housing : How could an alternative to the construction of low-quality housing be ensured? In a context of increased gentrification, how can we oppose forced evictions of Roma? What measures could prevent the formation or dismantle already existing segregated Roma neighbourhoods? How can the living conditions (regarding roads, water, sewage services, etc.) of the Roma community be improved?
- Education : How can the EU and the European states act to ensure equitable access to basic education? What incentives can be put in place for attending school and pursuing education? How can the education system integrate the Roma, enabling them to participate effectively at school, while preserving their cultural identity/ies and giving value to multiculturalism and multilinguism?
- Health : Is there any measure that can be taken to ensure better health provision for all? What are the results of the Roma Health Mediators Programs? How can the medical settings be improved and the medical staff be formed so as to fight discrimination of the Roma?
- Employment : How can we face it and fight against discrimination during job interviews? What impact could have a better access of Roma to the labour market in other spheres of their life, such as health, housing conditions or education? How can one assess the productive and economic benefits of activities that are often under-appreciated?
- Rights and justice :
This last topic on rights and justice is twofold. Depending on how relevant the following questions are regarding to local situations, only one of the two questions can be discussed.
Freedom of movement and its limits: Are the « drawbacks » of the principle of freedom of movement justified? How should we act when European citizens are sent back to their countries of origin? The example of France with the mass expulsions of Roma during the summer 2010 can be used as a starting point for this discussion.
State subject to the rule of law, exploitation and organised crime: How to deconstruct the association of Roma with criminality, notably in the mass media? What is the role of Europe in the case that one or several states lack the rule of law? How can we press local, national and / or European authorities so as to ensure anti-discrimination legislation and policies for Roma inclusion are not just wishful thinking but are effectively implemented?
Political and institutional framework
Anti discrimination legislation
Protection against discrimination is recognized as universal right by international human rights law through a wide number of instruments, such as the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD, 1965) or the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) adopted by the Council of Europe in 1994. Some of them require from the States not only to abstain from discrimination but to implement positive measures against it.
In the European Union law, non-discrimination is one of the main guiding principle in legal and policy initiative. The main texts against discrimination include the article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty, the Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC), the Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC), and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Article 13 of the EC Treaty provides that any discrimination on the grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation is prohibited.
The Directive 2000/43/EC on Racial Equality implements the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin. All member states are obliged to transpose it in national laws. It urges Member States to create a specialised body to promote equal treatment for all persons without discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origins and allows them to launch positive action programmes in favour of ethnic minorities.
The Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC) prohibit direct and indirect discrimination, as well as harassment on grounds of racial or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, disability, age or sexual orientation. It covers the fields of employment and occupation , vocational training and membership of employer and employee organisations.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights, proclaimed in 2000, gained legal status in 2007 with the Lisbon Treaty (Article 6). The United Kingdom, Poland and the Czech Republic have negotiated an "opt-out" and have not signed the Charter. The Charter affirms the civil, political, economic and social rights of European citizens. Before 2007, it had no binding legal force, but had an effect in influencing the decisions of the European Court of Justice. Since 2007, it can be invoked before the Court of Justice for breach of a Member State. Article 20 of the charter sets out the general principle of equality before the law, while article 21 concentrates on the principle of non-discrimination. Article 51 of the charter mentions that the principles set by the charter should guide the development of policy in the EU and the implementation of these policies by the national authorities.
Non-discrimination against ethnic minorities is one of the Copenhagen criteria that candidate countries must comply with in order to become EU Members.
Free movement and access to the labour market in teh EU
A very large number of the Roma population in Europe live in Bulgaria and Romania. As citizens of these two Member States of the EU, they are entitled to the EU “acquis communautaire”, including the 2004 directive on freedom of movement
. They have the right to stay in an EU Member State up to three months. Beyond this period of time, conditions of resources are set by the EU. However, certain restrictions (which vary according to the EU countries) are still maintained for Bulgaria and Romania for a transitional period (up to 7 years, i.e. up to 2014), regarding access to the labourmarket. According to European legislation, the Bulgarian and Romanian workers can currently enjoy full freedom of movement in 14 of 25 Member States (Denmark, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, Greece, Spain and Portugal) and also have free access to the labourmarket in the Czech Republic. Restrictions apply in the remaining 10 Member States (Belgium, Germany, Ireland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, UK and Malta). Though restrictions vary from one Member State to another, they generally require workers from Bulgaria and Romanian to obtain a work permit.
To this list should also be added series of laws existing at a national level concerning minority rights and anti-discrimination instruments. However, as important as this legal framework is, it is more important still that these laws be implemented and respected, which is far from being a reality today in Europe, especially in the case of Roma.
The Stockholm Programme
The Stockholm Programme is the five-year plan proposed by the European Council and adopted by the European Commission relating to the Justice and Home Affairs acquis
for the 2010-2014 period. This document, developed under the Swedish Presidency of the European Council in 2009, addresses new forms of cooperation and integration in the areas of freedom, security and justice in the European Union. It notably focuses on the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms in Europe, on the rule of law, on the achievement of a Europe of law and justice and on the full exercise of the right to free movement (section 2.2), all of which are major elements to improve the living conditions of the Roma in Europe. The Roma are explicitly quoted in the Stockholm programme in section 2.3.3. on the fight against discrimination.
European Alternatives stands for the defense of Roma rights not as specific rights granted to this (heterogeneous) group, but as human rights (see here our campaign film Roma rights are human rights
) and calls for their equal access to decent housing, education, health services, labour market, as well as for an effective right of freedom of movement in Europe. Discrimination against the Roma, as against anyone else, is unacceptable, and we mobilise ourselves against these particular cases in the name of a Europe which shows more solidarity and respect for human rights.
The Lisbon Treaty introduces the possibility of the European Citizens’ Initiative. The treaty provides that "not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties”. Online signatures will be considered valid. The current proposals are that signatures will have to come from a minimum of 9 EU countries for the initiative to be valid.
The way forward
European Alternatives is looking to collaborate with partner organisations and individual activists around Europe to organise a series of transnational deliberative consultations aimed at producing a join European demand and setting up the necessary coalition to carry through that demand.
Article and photo by Elena Dalibot