The following quotes are real. The author is the middle manager in charge of the Roma Unit of the European Commission. The Unit is part of the Directorate General (DG) Justice.
“The aim of this event [3rd -Roma Summit] is not to consult civil society but rather to provide the opportunity to renew the political commitments and ensure that the implementation of the EU Framework is moving forward where it makes a difference, at local level.”
Price tag for these colossally important renewals, moving forward, making differences, ensuring committed opportunities: a meager 500 000 to 1 000 000 EUR of public money.
The joy and happiness in the hearts of the millions of Roma who will be “moved forward” at the “local level”: priceless.
Hail to the Commission for making it crystal clear that the Summit has one concrete objective: NOT to consult civil society. If past experience gives us any indication, the Commission has a very good chance to succeed in meeting this objective.
“Very high-level decision makers have been invited to participate in this event; in addition, as cooperation from all stakeholders is key to build a common understanding on the best way forward to promote Roma integration in Europe, we are inviting representatives from the EU institutions, the national governments, a number of Mayors and local actors and a range of international organisations and civil society representatives.”
Praise the mighty Lords of the European Commission for employing people capable for the eloquence and refinement expressed in the perfectly crafted Eurotalk sentence above. Orwell would be very proud.
But back to the essence of this magnificent event.
It is a known truth often repeated in the offices and halls of DG Justice that the overwhelming majority (well over 99.9999%) of real experts on the Roma social inclusion are those within the DG Justice and its approved political and bureaucratic elites in capital cities and international institutions. So it’s just natural that they will be the main participants at this event.
These people (presidents, ministers, secretaries of state, mayors, senior and middle level bureaucrats in international organisations) are well known for their passion for Roma as well as for their invaluable expertise. All have spent hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of seconds talking about the necessity of serious work in the worst Roma communities.
Some of those high-level invited people are also well known for their courage and the risks they have exposed themselves to by publicly affirming their deep love of Roma. The Romanian and French presidents, of course, are the best known examples. Naturally, mayors will also be well represented at the Summit – are they not especially well-known in Eastern Europe (where most Roma live) for their strong belief in helping minorities and the poor, as well as for their appropriate spending of public money ?
“Only the representatives from civil society organisations and networks with whom we have worked extensively in the past few years have been invited by the Commission to this event.”
Another example of linguistic skill, this expresses the way the Roma Unit thinks in just one sentence. For those of you unable to read Eurotalk, the translation into vulgar English is: “We will not be consulting with anyone who does not already agree with us.”
This approach is reflected in the brilliant strategy deployed by DG Justice, the main Roma-responsible body of the European Commission, over the last four years. A review of the speaker lists of the main Roma events organized by DG Justice in these years shows that less than 20% of speakers could be called Roma experts.
If you filter this percentage by the number of senior- and middle-level managers from the EC actually present while those experts spoke, and look at the real hands-on grassroots level expertise of these experts, the number drops to well under 5%.
Of course, this approach aims to ensure the perfect balance needed for developing measures good for Roma. It mirrors some of the best available experiences in the world… American policies for blacks until the 1960s and South African policies until the end of Apartheid.
Also dazzling is the overall approach of the EC when selecting the recipients of EU funding: mainly very expensive, hugely bureaucratic non-Roma organisations with very limited expertise working in communities.
So just who are these civil society organisations and networks which will be privileged to attend the Summit? According to speaker lists for previous DG Justice events, the EC has worked with just two organizations which have hands-on grassroots experience within Roma communities.
In fact, DG Justice spent at maximum four entire hours in the last four years consulting with the organisation which has the most grassroots experience. This illustrates well the meaning of the term “extensive work.”
Clearly, similar extensive work is responsible for the last years of extraordinary results from EU funding in addressing social exclusion and anti-Gypsyism in Europe.
The Summit is the climax of this extensive work. With exquisite elegance and wit the Commission explains it:
“it is of course necessary to hear the voice of the Roma, but the number of Roma in the panels is not the only indicator of the quality of the debates…we are working so as to ensure web-streaming, which would allow all those interested to follow this event live.”
Indeed, the presence of Roma experts that work at the grassroots in the panels of the Roma Summit is irrelevant as long as the Roma voices are heard. Considering the past four years experience and the belief that there was extensive work with Roma at the level of DG Justice, most likely all of these voices are heard directly, continuously, distinctively and only in the heads of the decision makers within the DG Justice. The Roma website of the EC is, of course, very popular among decision-makers all around the world as a symbol of pragmatism and efficiency. Is also full of Roma voices. Only cute cats on YouTube are more popular.
A culture of lip-service and self-sufficiency, in combination with DG Justice and Commissioner Reding’s catastrophic management of Roma issues, risks to transform the good will, some great and some good work done in the past by a handful of great Commission employees into an embarrassing joke. Expectedly, some of the best have already left the EC, some were sidetracked, and some decided to quit the Roma field. It is a pity.
The absence of a normal representation of Roma experts on the panels of the EU Summit might indeed not be an indicator of the “quality of debates” but it is a very clear indicator of institutional racism. Considering that the Commission has invited the Romanian president – recently fined for racism against Roma – and that the most racist party in power in the EU (Fidesz) will also be well-represented, there is nothing to do but wonder how much more embarrassing the DG Justice approach on Roma issues can get.
The Summit will probably be opened by Viviane Reding. On January 16 this year she said for Euronews that Roma communities need “to be willing to integrate and to be willing to have a normal life”. Translation: we, Roma are abnormal.
PS. I asked the author of the quotes if her position reflects the official position of the EC. The Director General of DG Justice was copied in both her message and my question. There has been no reply to my question as of today. It will be a month this week…