The European Commission gave a positive assessment of the national strategies of the EU member states for social and economic integration of Roma within the Common strategy voted on April 5th this year. According to the strategy there are four key areas where the distance between Roma and other ethnicities should be reduced: access to education, employment, healthcare and residence. There are between 10 and 12 million Roma people in Europe, spread in various countries. According to the recent statistics, some 350 000 Roma citizens inhabit Bulgaria. But everywhere they are among the poorest and antisocial citizens and part of them are constantly moving from one country to another. Most of the EU countries have already presented particular measures for integration of Roma people. Among the good practices is the Bulgarian pilot project that aims at building homes for poor and vulnerable people worth 15 million leva, the report from the European Commission shows. According to the EU Commissioner of Law and Justice and Vice-president of the European Commission Vivian Reading these national strategies are only the first step and more evident results are needed. This should be achieved by more intense efforts, clear vision and measures, forecasted financing, social observance and appraisal. The Commissioner of Employment, Social Issues and Social integration Laszlo Andor has said that the inclusion of Roma people in the EU is a shared social, economic and moral duty and no country will receive money from the European social fund during the next programme period of 2014-2020, without having a certain project.
“The road towards successful integration of Roma people in the EU goes through observing the rights and responsibilities by everyone”-says Bulgaria’s MEP Andrey Kovachev in an interview for Radio Bulgaria. Recently he was organizer and a reporter representing Bulgaria at the forum named Roma citizens are European citizens, initiated by the European Parliament in regard to the report of the European commission about the integration of Roma people.
“The conference aimed to present the experience of countries where most of Roma people live such as Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, as well as the one of some South European countries as France and Spain, where Roma citizens are integrated successfully. When we talk about integration and solidarity we should always bear in mind that it is a two-way process. We should see willingness coming from both sides- the majority and the minority of the population. We can not expect only the municipality or the country or the EU to do something. People from Roma ethnicity should make efforts as well. Integration always consists of a few basic moments: education, employment, healthcare, residence. On behalf of my country, I expressed our willingness to create a successful pilot project of integration policy. We should not repeat our mistakes from the past, where those people were given homes, only to find them later on in a poor condition. We need to make beneficiaries of council homes take responsibilities. In the beginning such homes will be built in four big cities and will be owned by the municipalities. The beneficiaries will take active part in the building of their homes and will sign rental contracts under certain conditions. Some of them will state that those people have to send their children to school and to attend regular medical screenings or agree on every job offered to them. If some of these conditions are not fulfilled, the contract will be cancelled immediately. I am always concerned when we have to come up with a new strategy or plan. However, during the 1990s and after 2000 many funds allocated in this direction have disappeared and the effect has not been substantial. For that reason, I am a moderate optimist that this time, through good coordination between countries, European institutions and municipalities we will make a better progress. It is very important that the majority in each country should aim at such integration, but in order for this to happen it should see that minorities also want such change.”
The report from the European Commission shows us good practices as well: programmes aiming at higher employment in Bulgaria and Spain; Encouragement of Roma integration in the educational systems in Slovenia, Spain, Finland; support of the access of Roma people to healthcare in Hungary, Ireland, Romania, measures for improvement of the living standards in Hungary and France and others.
“France and Spain are always given as a good example. There we can see good inclusion of Roma population in public life. Especially in Spain this ethnicity takes big part in the formation of the total gross domestic product of the country. Almost all municipalities in France have given the people from the so-called nomad origin free terrain or parking lots where they can reside, although this kind of Roma citizens are rare now and many of them already live in a certain country. Our colleagues from Romania and Bulgaria stressed on the political moment as the integration of Roma society is a very sensitive problem and is often used for political reasons and populism and for gaining political dividends from both sides. Unfortunately Bulgaria has similar experience. Here Roma integration is used at times of elections for gaining more electoral votes. In this respect, we came to the conclusion that, as moderate politicians, we should not make this problem a political issue and find the best and most effective decisions so as to give good education to young Roma citizens and motivate their parents to send their children to school to complete secondary education. It is important to give them knowledge about health issues, so they know that is not right to become parents at the age of 12 or 13 and that living in social society means you should give something in order to receive back. At the same time they should learn to take part in the formation of the gross national product of the country they reside in. Many researches show what would be the potential gain for the national economies if we manage to fully integrate in the European labor market this population which amounts to over 11 million people across the continent.
Over the past few years, an ongoing debate in the EU has been focused on cases of compulsive extradition, where Bulgarian and Romanian Roma people were sent from France back to their countries. This topic was discussed at a forum in the European Parliament ahead of the appraisal given by the European Commission about Roma inclusion.
“This appraisal was mentioned in a debate over Bulgarian membership in the Schengen area. In this respect it was said once again that all European citizens have equal rights, regardless of their ethnic origin. On the other hand, though participants in the debate insisted that everyone should follow a common line of behavior and abide by the law in each member state. That is why we can not accept that someone will have an absolute freedom to move around Europe, without following the rules and the law of the visited country. If you do not respect those rules, the host country will have the right to reject your stay there.”
According to the appraisal of the European commission, so far only 12 member states have pointed in their strategies funds for Roma inclusion from European or national sources. These are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Sweden. The European commission will continue to give recommendations after this report and will issue yearly reports with evaluation of the progress of each member state in this area.
Translated by Kostadin Atanassov