Archive | March, 2015

Solutions, the good, the bad and the ugly – the 9th EU Roma Platform

18 Mar

Solutions*

These solutions were inspired by previous documents, experiences and discussions before, during and after the meeting of the EU Roma Platform.

  1. Thematic permanent -EU Roma Platform Working groups

Rationale

Permanent working groups will make the meetings of the Platform more efficient as they will be tasked to help the implementation and review of the National Roma Inclusion Strategies. During the preparation of the EU Platform meetings the working groups will deal with some of the recurrent problems of EU Roma meetings.  Frustrations can be vented and solved prior to each of the two yearly meetings. Those involved will have the expertise, interest and discipline to work towards achieving concrete goals. The working groups will also have a fundamental role in capacity building as bureaucrats need to learn about grassroots experiences and Roma activists about available international, national and local mechanisms.  It will ensure the much needed stakeholders cooperation and accountability.

What

Start with some 5-6 thematic groups. Anti-Gypsyism, Employment, Education-Culture-Sport-Citizenship, Health, Housing and Crises ( Humanitarian Aid, Trafficking…)

How it should work

Example Anti-Gypsyism working group/task force

Stakeholders : Anti-Discrimination ( DG Justice), Fundamental Rights Agency ( FRA), Council of Europe (Roma Unit, ECRI, Commissioner for Human Rights), EU High Representative for Human Rights, DG Enlargement, OHCHR , NGOs ( Amnesty, ERRC, ENAR, OSI, ERGO…), governments ( Equality Bodies) and Roma experts.

Goal: Prepare action plans for each of the stakeholders involved based on a realistic analysis of their strengths , weaknesses and complementarities. Such action plans need to include clear responsibilities and accountability for achieving the targets. The end goal is to achieve equality for Roma ( in terms of both rights and responsibilities)

Needs : Each of the institutional stakeholders appoints a person in charge of this task and introduce indicators to stimulate his/her work in its performance review. One part time employed independent expert to deal with the secretariat of the working group.

What :  The working –group will feed –in  the meeting of each platform with updates on the situation and recommendations of needed steps forward.

  1. National Roma Platforms

Rationale

In the past we witnessed a rather limited pool of people and ideas that played a role at the national level. There is a strong need of building hands-on expertise on available national and international instruments among the Roma NGOs and Roma grassroots experience and challenges for the national structures. These platforms need to be built on the same principles as the EU Roma Platform – a similar working groups structure is needed together with a very clear mandate for helping the implementation and the review process of the Roma National Strategies.

How it should work: Based on similar working groups as the example above

Needs :  Budget for an independent expert  secretariat  ( some of those employed at the national level could be the same that ensure the secretariat of the EU Roma Platform working groups in order to reduce the budgets).

  1. Replicate the exceptional success of the EU Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification (MCV) in Romanian and Bulgaria for the case of Roma Social Inclusion.

Rationale

Despite being opposed, strongly criticized and often hated by a good majority of the Romanian politicians and media moguls the MCV has led to an extraordinary clean up within the Romanian society in regard to corruption. There is a possibility for a pilot project (based on the good practice of the European Semester ) covering some of the most important countries for the social inclusion of Roma to create a much stronger mechanism for helping the successful implementation of the Roma National Strategies.

How to do it : Together with EC Representations in these countries the European Commission need to appoint an expert on Roma issues capable to help the governments , NGOs and other stakeholders to transform the existing strategies in actions with effect at the grassroots. Such officers should also play a fundamental role in the success of the first 2 solutions proposed here.

Needs : One of the Commissioners dealing with Roma issues should propose such a pilot project to the vice-president in charge of Fundamental Rights. Once approved by the very senior management the bureaucracy in Brussels should be able to come up with a technical solution.

  1. Analyze the efficiency of existing structures, mechanism and practices

Rationale

During the meeting of the platform the participants made clear that we need to address the issue of accountability.  A clear recommendation for such an analysis was the conclusion of one of the two working groups. There are many mechanisms available – some of them are good and need to be much better used, some of them are mediocre and need to be reformed/improved and some are useless and need to be scrapped. The public money saved from giving –up on some existing  mechanisms and practices will surely cover not only the needs from this document but many others.

How to do it : Task an independent expert to conduct a critical evaluation focused on the effectiveness of existing mechanisms to reach equality for Roma. The evaluation should also include recommendations on structural methods meant to put in practice equality duties in order to achieve the goal that Roma have a key role in both setting up the agendas and assuming responsibilities for achieving the goals of those agendas.

The good

Most of the participants openly acknowledged that this was the best EU Roma Platform meeting they could remember.

The Commission was clearly focused on listening and facilitating – in a very strident and very much welcomed opposition to the preaching style of the last EU Roma Platforms I attended ( some 3-4 years ago).

Unexpectedly humble and emotional speech of Commissioner in charge of Roma issues very much different (in a very positive way) from the style of previous Commissioner.

Two Roma MEPs that put lots of time and heart in the meeting – discrepantly different from the previous Roma MEPs that rarely if ever  bothered to stay for anything else besides their own speeches. Some remarkable speeches and interventions of activists (Roma and non-Roma) my age and  younger.

More and higher position (ministers and deputy ministers) representative of governments were present that in any of the Roma Platform meetings I attended or covered. Good intervention from the ministers from Sweden and Luxembourg.

The bad

Discussions were at times very much unfocused and the opportunity offered by the organisers to come up with concrete solutions was partially missed. Some of the speeches and interventions were remarkably dull or unsuitable for the purpose of the meeting.

A weak show up of intergovernmental institutions and the sensation that a good part of stakeholders  see the European Commission as a pile of money and not much else. Local authorities presence was also remarkably weak and the speeches of the government representatives from countries with significant Roma population lacked anything concrete( Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria).

The ugly

Despite a very limited experience with the Roma issues ( according to her own words – only “participation to a few seminars”) the Romanian Contact Point for Roma issues had no problems to show publicly her support for the statement ;”the situation of Roma is improving”. She happened to be the only one among the many Romanians present that had such an opinion.

The Platform also provided a good opportunity for too many to exercise for hours their Facebook and shopping skills. It seems that we Roma also need to find ways to hold accountable some of our own that misunderstand or misuse their positions and waste not just public money but some good opportunities.

*Solutions focused on the role and functioning of the EU Roma Platform.

PS. Open Democracy decided also to publish my previous post – it can be found at

https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/valeriu-nicolae/no-accountability-%E2%80%93-case-of-roma-social-inclusion-in-europe

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No accountability* – article published by Eurozine

10 Mar

For most politicians and bureaucrats, social inclusion of Roma is a terrifying and complex issue impossible to solve during their short terms in office.[1] Despite a few years of small efforts, and decades of very strong but mainly empty rhetoric, Roma remain the most discriminated-against ethnic group in Europe and the most unrepresented within the decision-making structures. Due to a chronic lack of expertise among senior management at the level of governments and inter-governmental institutions, tackling the situation of Roma is seen as a professional quagmire. The needed incentives to tackle this issue – opportunity for fast, impressive results, or electoral gains – are very difficult to envision.

Paying lip-service, preserving the status quo, and avoiding controversy are, pragmatically, the best career moves for many in relevant decision-making positions. For the past two decades, most of the new appointments in high positions dealing with Roma have led to long periods of non-action followed sometimes by reinventing, rediscovery and repetition. Such appointments point towards the existence of structural racism within those institutions and the very poor standards of professionalism required for occupying these positions. Not rarely, catastrophic approaches disguised as positive practices in sycophantic reports make their way back on the table of the new Roma tsars.

Accountability for failures or lack of progress in addressing Roma social inclusion is exceptionally rare for many reasons. Disinterest, or professional inability on the part of Member States and inter-governmental institutions to create systems that can hold people and institutions accountable are the main problems. Those in charge instead develop the ability to shift or avoid responsibility. Poor civic and political involvement of Roma within the European societies results in the inability of Roma to exert sufficient, or any political or social pressure to make structures and people accountable.

The outcome is that all main stakeholders struggle to define clear and distinct responsibilities, or simply avoid them. Creating dedicated, professional, transparent and accountable institutional mechanisms focused not on producing well-wishing papers but implementing actions based on strategies might help. With explicit budgets, targets, indicators, and timeframes, such strategies could ensure the success of the EU Framework of National Roma Social Inclusion Strategies.

At the moment, the existing strategies can barely be called strategies. The existing governmental Roma structures are at best irrelevant. In some cases they are in fact detrimental to the social inclusion of Roma.

Roma politicians are, in general, an embarrassment. The Roma civil society remains small, weak in terms of influence and pressure, dependent on EU and foreign aid, opportunistic, and inexperienced in dealing with the obstacles and complexities of efficiently influencing the Member States and European agendas.

The economic crisis also has had a significant negative effect. Lack of funding radicalised or silenced much needed critical voices within the Roma civil society. International organisations started to compete with Roma civil society organisations for the available EU funding, and in most of the cases won. As a result, we saw a dramatic decline in the opportunities available for young Roma professionals. The small progress made in the previous years regarding cooperation and coordination among stakeholders was replaced by suspicion and tensions generated by the lack of money.

Long-term strategic thinking was replaced with opportunistic approaches meant to ensure survival of programmes, jobs, and organisations. Senior, well-connected people without a job or in danger of losing their jobs were appointed once again in high-level positions dealing with Roma issues, waiting for retirement or a change of fortune.

There are no easy or short-term solutions to change the situation of Roma in Europe. In fact, it will probably get worse before it starts to get better. However, we need to take some basic steps in order to avoid painful and costly crises in the future.

Accountability

Not only governments, but all stakeholders need to come up with explicit Minimal Action Plans (MAPs) that can be monitored and evaluated easily and transparently. People in positions of power need to be held responsible and monitored based not on ambiguous rhetoric but clear indicators. That should include EU Commissioners, Ministers, top-level bureaucrats, and mayors, but also directors of NGOs paid from public money. The process of selection for top jobs in governments and inter-governmental institutions but also within Roma NGOs must become a lot better and fully transparent. Participation of Roma experts needs to evolve from pompous speeches and documents to every-day jobs.

Institutional mechanisms

The pre-accession mechanisms as well as the existing Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification for Justice brought about progress that nobody would have expected in Romania. A similar mechanism focused on Roma social inclusion, aimed to stimulate difficult and sometimes otherwise impossible decisions at the national level, might be a solution. There are enough precedents to make piloting of such a mechanism possible in countries with a significant Roma population. It would make a huge difference in the implementing countries.

Funding reform

Up until now, funding targeting the social inclusion of Roma failed to produce systemic and sustainable results. It is exceptional and mainly accidental when existing priorities in the strategies for Roma social inclusion match the available funding priorities. It is even more exceptional when needs, resources (financial and human), and strategies are correlated and implemented successfully. In fact, I was unable to find even one example of such a success. One solution might be a European fund for the social inclusion of Roma based on member state contributions and administrated by the European Commission/Council of Europe and a panel of independent experts.

To improve the existing situation we need systemic change. The first steps must be accountability, effective institutional mechanisms, and reform of the way social inclusion of Roma is funded. Addressing widespread European anti-Gypsyism and the role of each of the many stakeholders in addressing the overall exclusion faced by Roma within all societal spheres in Europe are also vital issues.

The EU Roma Platform taking place in Brussels on 16-17 March is in this regard a very pleasant surprise. It puts two fundamental topics high on the agenda: addressing anti-Gypsyism, and multi-stakeholder cooperation. Both require much better coordination, the attention and help of everybody involved. Unfortunately, without first achieving accountability, institutional mechanisms, and funding reform, progress on anti-Gypsyism and multi-stakeholder cooperation maybe prove unrealistic if not impossible.

* Examples to support my conclusions in this article can be found in my previous postings.

[1] Just exceptionally are their mandates longer than 5 years.