Weekly news

ERIO'S WEEKLY E-NEWS 03-10-2014

ERIO news and activities

* High level conference with local authorities in Brussels
On October 2nd and 3rd in Brussels, the European Commission held a conference entitled "Roma inclusion on the ground - the ROMACT approach”. The conference aimed at taking stock of progress and lessons learned in integrating Roma at local level one year after the ROMACT program was launched by the European Commission and the Council of Europe. Mayors and other representatives shared their experiences, successes and the challenges they face in integrating marginalised Roma communities. The conference was attended by more than 400 participants from 30 countries.
 
Among the high level representatives from the European institutions were present Lazslo Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Paraskevi Michou, Acting Director-General, Justice of the European Commission and Soraya Post, Member of the European Parliament.
 
Mr. Andor in his speech stated that "The Commission will change in one month but the objectives will not. The Commission adopted a European Roma Strategy which is a historic commitment. The aim is to make a measurable progress in education, health, housing and employment, to mainstream Roma in all spheres of life, to involve national and local authorities and to ensure funding. This Commission made it clear. The Strategy 2020 will not be a success if a community such as the Roma is excluded from the European society. Isolated Roma programs do not necessarily promote Roma inclusion. The European Social Fund is an important instrument to make it happen. At least 20% -which is 16 billion euros- are provided to fight exclusion and poverty. Today, local authorities lack capacity and often political will. They lack the experience to design measures. The lack of mutual trust and understanding between Roma and authorities is often an issue".
 
Ms. Soraya Post, a Romani Member of the European Parliament stated: "All strategies are good but if they are not implemented, they do not make sense. We talk about inclusion and integration, but this process includes two sides. The Framework is missing an important point. In modern time, Roma have been subjected to propaganda and Anti-Gypsyism. My message today is that until we abolish Anti-Gypsyism, no strategy or policies will be successful. The Commission needs to act. This is only last week that an infringement procedure was launched against the Czech Republic. We congratulate it as this is the first time that this kind of action is undertaken. We should talk about common history which makes us proud. The Commission should work with Roma civil society organisations".
 
Ms. Paraskevi Michou in her presentation stated "We have to commit, all of us, not only the European Commission and the Council of Europe, but also local and national authorities and Roma. We expect the participants in this conference to share good and not so good practices, to see what we can do further. We are here to cooperate".
* ERNE Final Conference 01 October 2014
On October the 1st, the European Roma Information Office organised the closing conference of the two-year ERNE project “European Roma Integration good practice exchange and policy network” (www.erne-project.eu). Through an exchange of experiences and best practices, the ERNE project aimed at contributing to the implementation of the National Roma Inclusion Strategies (NRIS) in the particular field of education in order to maximise chances of success for Roma integration. Education is a key element of social policy and all member states are required to give it a particular attention in view of the implementation of their NRIS before 2020. However, evidence shows that Roma children still face specific difficulties in terms of schooling experience, such as low attendance, high dropout rate or discrimination due to their ethnicity and background. Nine European partners coming from different countries participated in this project: the Municipality of Koprivnica (Croatia), Zukunftsbau GmbH (Germany), the European Neighbours – Verein zur Föderung von Benachteiligten in Europa (Austria), Kulturverein Österreichischer Roma (Austria), FormAzione Co&So Network (Italy), University Stefan cel Mare of Suceava (Romania) and European Roma Information Office (Belgium). Representatives from the project’s partners and other civil society organisations attended the ERNE final conference, as well as representatives from the European institutions, in particular Ákos Topolánszky, Rapporteur of the European Economic and Social Committee and Frank Pierobon, European Commission Representative, DG Education.

This event was based on a constructive exchange of good practices by project partners who in turns presented successful examples and recommendations regarding pre-school education, school education, higher school education and vocational education. A particular emphasis was given to the fact that education is a key-area but that no improvement can be achieved as long as the basic needs are not met. This implies that a lot of efforts have to be made to raise awareness on the situation of Roma people in Europe, an idea which seems to be closely related to data collection issues. Partners also highlighted the necessity to involve different stakeholders in the elaboration and implementation of projects and policies, and in particular the Roma.  

For the section of the final conference on the ERNE website, click here
* ERIO at the Award for Roma Integration Study Visit
29/09/2014 - The Award for Roma Integration aims to raise visibility of the challenges faced by Roma in the enlargement countries. The three day study tour has been organized by DG Enlargement, EU Commission in cooperation with TACSO. Liane Adle from DG Enlargement emphasized that "Roma integration is one of the key priorities in the area of fundamental rights, forming part of the negotiation process for accession." She also stressed that "NGOs should join forces to increase EU funding absorption capacity."
 
Ivan Ivanov, ERIO Executive Director, who was a speaker at the meeting, stressed the need for civil society to be well organized and not to wait for national authorities to act. He said that civil society must be "very active at the local level. Real things happen at the local level." He also expressed concern regarding the lack of effective monitoring or evaluation as to where funding for Roma is invested. The necessity of Roma participation in civil society projects, and proportionate representation in local and central government was also emphasized.
* ERIO press release on the European Commission infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic
26/09/2014 - The European Roma Information Office welcomes the European Commission’s action to initiate infringement procedures against the Czech Republic for violation of EU anti- discrimination laws. 
 
For a number of years, ERIO has been actively involved in calling for an end to the practice of systematic discrimination of Roma children in schools in the Czech Republic. ERIO made an intervention shortly before the hearing in the Grand Chamber judgment of DH v Czech Republic. The landmark judgment which held that the practice of placing Roma children in special schools for children with learning difficulties violated Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), together with Article 2 of Protocol No.1 (right to education) of the European Court of Human Rights.
 
Ivan Ivanov, ERIO’s Executive Director, was involved in building the legal strategy behind the DH case. He states “At that time we believed this landmark case was the European equivalent of Brown v Board of Education, which would fundamentally change the discriminatory practices against Roma in the education systems not only in the Czech Republic but also the other former socialist countries. Unfortunately this did not transpire. Following the Grand Chamber decision the Czech Republic initiated minor changes which did not have a lasting impact on the negative practice of school segregation.” 
 
ERIO commends the EU Commission’s initiative, since following the adoption of the Racial Equality Directive there have been several occasions where infringement proceedings were appropriate, but ultimately did not take place. Discrimination against Roma remains widespread. A Eurobarometer survey clearly shows that the Roma communities remain the most discriminated against. [1] The recent EU Commission report on the implementation of the Racial Equality Directive [2] also singles out Roma as the most discriminated against group. The initiation of infringement proceedings demonstrates the EU Commission’s serious commitment to the fundamental EU principles of equal treatment and non-discrimination which lie at the heart of the treaties.
 
ERIO’s Executive Director stated that this infringement procedure “will send a serious signal to other EU Member States where discrimination is taking place, but also to the accession countries with large Roma populations, where there is substantial evidence that the school segregation of Roma children is widespread. This practice ruins thousands of young Roma lives across the region and must be brought to an end.”
 
The infringement procedures were taken under Article 258 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union. In particular the proceedings question the compliance with the obligations of the Czech Republic under Article 2 and Article 3(1) (g) of the Racial Equality Directive which prohibits discrimination in education on the grounds of race or ethnic origin. The Czech Republic’s compliance with Article 21(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union[3] which protects against discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin is also drawn into question.
 
The Commission is in the process of issuing a formal notice to the Czech Republic who will then be required to issue its observations within the period laid down by the Commission. The Commission will then deliver a reasoned opinion on the matter. If the state subsequently fails to comply with the opinion the issue may be brought before the European Court of Justice.

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_263_en.pdf, p42
[2] http://ec.europa.eu/justice/discrimination/files/com_2014_2_en.pdf

[3] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/charter/pdf/text_en.pdf, Article 21(1)

OTHER news

* New EU Commissioner Needs to Be More Active on Roma
By Violeta Naydenova, EUobserver

BRUSSELS - The European Commission’s recent decision to open infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic for its policy of discriminating against Roma school children is a milestone.

Roma children are 27 times more likely to be placed in schools for mentally disabled children than non-Roma pupils. Exclusion of any group from mainstream education, whether because of disability or ethnicity, breaches international human rights standards.

The Czech government’s policy towards Roma also puts it in breach of the EU’s racial equality directive, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of ethnic or racial origin.

In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights declared that the Czech policy violates the European Convention. However, the government has done little to change the practice since then. After several years of calls from international organisations, civil society and Roma groups, the Commission has launched its first investigation into state-sponsored discrimination against Roma.
...

“If the newly appointed Commissioner-designate for Justice, Vera Jourova, wants to do better than her [predecessor] – she will have to combat anti-Roma attitudes and discrimination. These are the main obstacles standing in the way of effective national policies to improve life for Roma.”

Read more here
* Czech Justice Commissioner candidate says there is no single solution to social integration
By ČTK, Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert

01.10.2014 - This afternoon the hearing began at the European Parliament of Commissioner-designate Věra Jourová, the Czech Republic's candidate for the position of EU Commisioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality. During roughly three hours of questions and answers, Jourová attempted to convince MEPs from the four relevant committees not just of her professional qualifications to handle the post in the future Juncker Commission, but also of her personal integrity.  

Questions regarding the situation of Romani people in the EU were asked as well. "I am fully aware that the portfolio I will be responsible for, should I be approved as Commissioner, will have a real impact on every person in this room and on each of the 500 million people who are part of the enormous common project called the European Union," the candidate said in her introductory remarks.  

Read more here
* Roma proxy: EU-funded project launched to resolve squatter issues
By TASR, SITA. Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská, The Slovak Spector

01/10/2014 - A pilot project is to be launched in Krásna Hôrka in the south-eastern Slovakia, designed to tackle problems relating to the ownership of land upon which an illegal Roma settlement is built. The project is to be carried out by a working group composed of various experts from a number of institutions and will operate on a budget of €30,000.

We want to try to see the land in this village change hands by a swap,” Government Proxy for the Roma Communities Peter Pollak said at a press conference on September 30. “If we find out that legislation needs to be changed first, we’ll attempt to do that. We’ve determined a number of the most critical sites that need only simple land modifications.”

Read more here
* Greece: Roma camp evacuation postponed; flow resumes on Mesogeion Avenue
By ekathimerini.com

30/09/2014 - Plans to evacuate and partially demolish a Roma encampment in the northern Athenian suburb of Halandri, erected nearly four decades ago on a site behind the present-day Nomismatokopio metro station, were called off on Tuesday amid protests from the camps residents and local authority representatives.

A few dozen residents of the Roma camp caused traffic chaos in the early hours of the day by blocking off both the southbound and northbound lanes of Mesogeion Avenue, a central artery linking downtown Athens with the capital's northern suburbs. They also burned tires and plastic dumpsters outside the entrance of the camp in order to prevent the demolition crew from entering.

Read more here
* Flanders Today: Commissioner promises EU support for Roma in Ghent
By Derek Blyth

The City of Ghent has long implemented a policy of tolerance when it comes to Roma travellers, but mayor Daniel Termont wants the EU to investigate the reasons they leave their home countries

26/09/2014 - European Commissioner for social affairs, László Andor, spoke at Ghent University yesterday about the problem of integrating Roma migrants in local communities. Ghent has been struggling for several years to deal with Roma migrants, who began to settle in the city after the EU opened its borders to East Europeans. Mayor Daniel Termont wrote to the European Commission earlier this year to point out that many Roma in his city had fled Slovakia because they faced discrimination in their home country and called on the EU to investigate whether this was a breach of their EU rights.

Andor spoke broadly about the right to free movement in Europe before turning to the specific question of Roma. “Flows of marginalised, often poorly educated Roma are prompted by a combination of extreme poverty and discrimination in their home countries,” he said. “Such marginalised communities face both huge and specific challenges. We therefore need to make efforts to tackle discrimination and to promote their inclusion in society, in mainstream education and in the labour market. Because freedom of movement is one of the fundamental freedoms of EU citizens, our policy response cannot be simply to curtail it.”

Read more here
* OSCE/ODIHR pays attention to the displaced people in Ukraine
By Times.am

30/09/2014 - Many Roma in Ukraine are facing even greater challenges due to the current conflict in the country, says a report released by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) on 29 September 2014 during the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw. OSCE official web-site informs about this.

The Situation Assessment Report on Roma in Ukraine highlights the difficult situation for Roma living in Ukraine, due to a lack of birth certificates or residence registration, as well as an overall negative perception of the community in society. This situation has worsened for those who have been displaced as a result of the conflict in the east.

“The recent political and security developments in Ukraine have clearly had a negative impact on the situation of Roma in the country,” said Mirjam Karoly, ODIHR Senior Adviser on Roma and Sinti Issues. “They have experienced threats and violence, and there are reports of them being pressured to support the separatists in the East.”

Read more here
* Roma woman flees racial attacks in Czech Republic, becomes UK police officer
By fk, Czech Radio, translated by Gwendolyn Albert

29.09.2014 - In Czech society, stereotypes usually put ethnic Roma on the wrong side of the law. In Great Britain, Romani people are offered unsuspected opportunities, and so it is that Dana Ghosh, a Romani woman from the Czech Republic, is in her police uniform for the first time today. In the English town of Peterborough, Ghosh is expected to mainly serve the large Romani community. Czech Radio reports that her ethnic origin was not important at all when she applied for the prestigious job.

"I liked the idea. I thought about it a lot and ultimately I decided to go for it. The whole process lasted about five months. I learned I got the job a couple of weeks ago. I'm enthusiastic about it," says Ghosh, who is originally from the town of Opava.

Read more here
* A lack of political will to help Roma in Europe
By Euranet Plus Central

They are about ten millions all over the EU. Many Roma became European citizens after the Eastern Europe countries were awarded full EU adhesion status. Nevertheless they often remain “second class” people and still are among the poorest communities inside the EU. EU funds to help change the situation do exist, but they are often not being used – due to a lack of political will of the national authorities. This is the particularly the case in Romania, the country with the biggest Roma communities in Europe.

25/09/2014 - About 2,5 million Roma live in Romania, although officially only less than 400.000 declare themselves as Roma. You can meet them all over the country and it is impossible not to notice their misery. The European Union launched a programme to implement national strategies, including EU funding for national projects, that contribute to Roma integration.

NGOs have difficulties getting EU money
Nevertheless, as local NGOs report, this money is rarely able to fulfill its mission. Local organizations do not have easy access to funds coming from Brussels that are destinated for Roma, says Ionut Sibian, Executive Director of the Romanian Foundation for Civil Development of the Society. He complains about administrative hurdles that prevent NGOs from doing their work.

Read more here

ANNOUNCEMENTS and events

Nothing About Us Without Us?’ Roma Participation in Policy Making and Knowledge Production
The conference seeks to explore the institutional and systemic obstacles to the substantive participation of Romani organizations, researchers, and concerned citizens in policies and representations affecting their lives.
Despite the increasing attention of international organizations and national governments to the plight of citizens of Romani origin, their social status has not improved significantly. It appears that neither Romani citizens, nor ‘the majority society’ are aware of and identify with the noble principles underlying such efforts. External pressure has not been coupled with dynamic social movements demanding the emancipation of Roma, the strengthening of democratic solidarity, and a culture of equality and diversity. On the contrary: nationalist and racist movements are on the rise, liberal approaches are openly negated by leading politicians throughout Europe, Roma are increasingly the targets of expulsion, marginalization, and segregation.

Venue: Corvinus University Budapest, Fővám tér 8., auditorium III.
Date: 13. October 2014
Preliminary program: http://romaempowerment.wordpress.com
Please register by 6 October at http://bit.ly/1pnMPCc
Award for Roma Integration in the Western Balkans and Turkey
 
Brussels, 01/10,2014 - Today, the European Commission has for the first time given awards for Roma integration to civil society organisations from Western Balkans and Turkey. The awards honour the contribution and the valuable work of civil society in supporting social inclusion of Roma people. The seven winning organisations, announced during a ceremony in Brussels, have all shown comprehensive and innovative approaches.
 
The winners were chosen from 21 short listed organisations, mostly working at grass-root level and either Roma-led or having Roma staff members. The selected projects cover diverse areas: from education and children's or women's rights, to housing, employment and health.
 
"We all - the European Commission, the governments, civil society organisations - need to send out the same message: Roma integration is an important policy. And it is not only investment for the benefit of this minority but it is also an investment to the benefit of society. Living in an environment in which each member of society contributes with their spirit and work force, will allow countries to grow strong and prosperous, from an economic, social and cultural perspective.", said Štefan Füle, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, at the award ceremony.
 
The award's aim is to raise the political importance of integration of Roma as part of the enlargement process, to enhance the role of the civil society and to show the commitment of the European Commission to support Roma people. Through recognising the achievements of the winning organisations, the initiative is expected to support further implementation of the awarded activities. Each of the seven winners was awarded a prize of  €14,000.

The winners are:
Albania: Roma Active Albania (RAA) with a project increasing the capacity of Roma civil society actors and raising awareness about Roma women’s issues
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Citizens Association for the Promotion of Education of Roma-Otaharin, with a project promoting education
Kosovo: The Ideas Partnership, with a project supporting the former beggar-women of Fushe Kosove to get back to work and their children back to school
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Centre for Integration Ambrela, with a project supporting early childhood development
Serbia: Hands of Friendship, with a mother-child educational project
Turkey: Sulukule Roma Culture Development and Solidarity Association, with a children art atelier project
Montenegro: Center for Roma Initiatives, with action against forced and early marriage in Roma and Egyptian communities.
_______________
Read Commissioner Füle's speech : http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-14-649_en.htm
* National Gypsy, Roma & Traveller Symposium

Monday 20th October 2014, Pierhead, Cardiff Bay - 10.30am – 4.00pm

The Romani Cultural Arts Company is the leading Romani and Traveller community organisation in Wales, using the arts and culture as a vehicle for advocacy and empowerment amongst the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. The RCAC seeks to build understanding and community cohesion between Gypsies and others, supporting individuals as “community champions” to become actors and agents of change, encouraging them to become active in making a difference for themselves.

The October 2014 “Great Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Debate” will bring together members of the Gypsy, Roma andTraveller community with politicians, policy makers and public servants to address the issues that have become so prevalent in the past few years. Why are Roma from Eastern Europe coming to the UK? Who are they and how are they related to Gypsies and Travellers? How can our schools, hospitals and housing services work with these communities? The invited panel of experts will address these questions and others, in an “any questions” panel and discussion with the audience.

For more information please contact: Isaac Blake at isaacblake@romaniarts.co.uk or on +44 (02920) 78 6439

Read more herehttp://romaniarts.co.uk/8749-great-gypsy-roma-traveller-debate/

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