An Open Letter to the European Commission
I have been accused in the past of always complaining about what the Commission does and never offering “constructive” solutions myself. Factually this is false.I am a strong pro-European. I also reject sugar-coating and I think critical thinking is what can get us out of the mess we are in at this moment.
Those of you who truly care about Roma integration know that many of the EC’s policies and procedures are counterproductive and that many in senior management are inept and/or racist when it comes to the Roma. You know that the Commission and the Member States waste EU public money and that most of the measures taken are simply window dressing. You know that funding as it is now designed does not produce results (the numbers are irrefutable) and that it cannot produce results. Trying to do the best with a paint-brush when you need shovels, excavators, and trucks is an apt metaphor I heard from one of you.
You know that the overwhelming majority of the things I wrote are true (they are based on hands-on experience, official papers or “anonymous” leaks from within the European Commission). Focusing on my inherent mistakes or picking and choosing what you want from my texts is, intellectually, dishonest.
Nonetheless, you will probably be happy to know that this is my last article criticizing the EC. I am taking a break from Roma issues, but first, I will leave you with what I think are five rather easy and perfectly doable steps to begin the long expensive process of turning around the mess we are in today, before it becomes an even bigger, more divisive, and expensive mess tomorrow.
Roma Social Inclusion Measures the European Commission Can and Should Take:
- 1. Stimulate work in the most difficult Roma communities, especially in urban ghettoes (As you know, the Roma birthrate is significantly higher than the European birth rate – and the number of Roma living in ghettoes in Eastern Europe and in make-shift ghettoes all over Europe is on the rise).
Why – Due to flawed design of EU funds targeting Roma social inclusion and poor design of funding mechanisms in general, we created an industry for producing fancy but empty words, copy-paste reports, endless conferences and fake reporting. We stimulated the desire of Roma activists to think of themselves as “dignitaries” and have ended up with highly dysfunctional Roma political and civic elites (many of whom, as you know, are incompetent, corrupt, and/or criminal).
Ghettoes are exploding. Shockingly low education levels fuel delinquency in the form of drugs, prostitution, theft, loan sharking, trafficking, and vote-rigging. When combined with close links to politicians, these ghettoes are a seedbed of crime for the entire European Union. It is a lot easier and more efficient to convince Member States that they need to invest in improving living conditions and educational access in the ghettoes than to start enormously expensive legal procedures of infringement that will lead nowhere. Early education especially in rural Roma communities remain mainly empty words in pompous speeches –the end-result more and more uneducated Roma join ghettoes all around Europe.
- a. With existing resources launch enough competitions for medium term (3 to 5 years) institutional support for NGOs that can demonstrate results (not contract or report imaginary work) in Roma communities and ghettoes. This can be done by different DGs and EACEA. (I wrote in the past a full brief about why and how it can be done –here just some highlights)
Such calls will stimulate real grassroots work and act as an incentive for EU member states to pay more attention and be more involved in addressing the issues in the most problematic Roma communities and ghettoes.
- b. Make clear to the governments (including in high level meetings) that grassroots work – and not conferences or trainings or reports – is where the EU funds should be spent. (NB: The Secretary General of the Council of Europe already made that step- so you are safe to say the same). Make sure these issues are taken into account in negotiations with member states about their priorities for the next financial period.
These things are simple and easy to do within the constraints of the European Commission, and will lead to increased efficiency of EU funds targeted to address Roma exclusion as well as to improvements in the functioning of Roma civil society.
- 2. Replace existing bureaucracy in charge of Roma issues with one that has both power and expertise in Roma issues. Require a yearly working plan, indicators for measuring performance, independent evaluations and full transparency to ensure efficiency of such bureaucracy.
Why – Although there are some good things that have been made possible through EU funding, they are exceptions. Anyone who asserts that the European Commission and EU Funds have significantly improved the lives of Roma citizens is either delusional or dishonest. Today the European Commission shows all the signs of structural racism when it comes to the Roma and scant courage to seriously address Roma exclusion and anti-Gypsyism. I dealt with these issues extensively in my previous articles – I will not substantiate more here.
How – There are people already working in the Commission who could form the core of the more efficient bureaucracy we all desire. Temporary contracts with experts (meaning people with hands on field experience, not expertise in writing reports) as well as secondments from member states could attract the right talent. This is an easy way to build inside expertise and legitimacy for the EC. Most Member States will follow the recommendations of a more meritocratic bureaucracy, which will also garner stronger support from the civil society. A basic standard on working on Roma issues should be adopted regulating employment and consultation with Roma. The independent evaluation of the EC mechanisms and bureaucracy working on Roma should be supervised by the European Parliament.
- 3. Address the waste of public money
Why – the European Commission and especially Member States are perceived to be wasting huge amounts of money when it comes to Roma social inclusion –we all know glaring examples of such waste.
How – stop contracting and sub-contracting other expensive bureaucracies just to get rid of large sums of money and spend your budgets. As long as the World Bank, UNDP, Council of Europe, OSCE, etc., do not invest in Roma issues and have no Roma expertise within, giving them money wastes public funds – with no direct benefit for Roma. These funds can be much better used to create your own institutional expertise. Curtail the largely ceremonial conferences on Roma social inclusion and the report production. Focus on institutional support of NGOs that work at the grassroots level and reform the ESF mechanisms and priorities to fit the realities on the ground.
- 4. Create an independent EU Agency for Social Inclusion and Innovation. (NB: to avoid the veto of France, do not name it the EU Roma Social Inclusion Agency). Use the agency as a critical think tank for dealing with the National Roma Framework Strategies and to help offset the lack of creativity and expertise within your own institution.
Why and how is not needed here. Just review the documentation that led to the creation of the FRA and avoid making the same mistakes that made the FRA irrelevant on Roma issues. Base this agency in Romania – the country with the largest Roma population—to signal your commitment to seriously addressing Roma social inclusion at its roots.
- 5. Replace Commissioner Reding with someone with genuine commitment to Roma inclusion as well as the knowledge and political skill to start turning around the EC’s dismal track record to date. Avoid similar disastrous appointments in the future by introducing basic requirements for the Roma focused jobs- meaning hands-on experience and proven results.
The why is self-evident considering the mess we are in now. How – you can start by creating a High-level taskforce for the Social Inclusion of Roma in Europe – a recommendation liked and promoted by the ex-Commissioner responsible for Roma issues – Vladimir Spidla. I explained this structure to some of the senior management in charge. Such structure should also come up with a basic standard of work on Roma issues that should be respected by the intergovernmental and governmental bureaucracies.