The European project is undoubtedly the best thing that happened to Roma communities in the region in the last decades. The anti-discrimination framework of the European Union as well as the strong focus on Human Rights and social inclusion of the different partnership between the EU and other countries have raised the awareness about the plight of Roma. EU provides the largest amount of money available for Roma targeted projects and the European Commission ( EC) has lead a difficult but successful negotiation process that saw the adoption of National Strategies for the Social Inclusion of Roma in many countries.
Despite all these the situation of Roma is far from improving.
The European Funding targeting the social inclusion of Roma has been insufficient to bring about enough changes to stop the existing trend that see more and more Roma, especially Roma children falling to abject poverty.
The majority of available funds were poorly used. EU Member States as well as countries that have signed different partnership agreements with the EU have been reluctant and largely unprepared for using these funds. Poorly prepared human resources, wishful thinking and corruption are some of the most important reasons for the existing failures. Intellectual dishonesty as well as lazy attitudes also, have played an important role in the existing situation.
Roma in Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria but also those in Turkey, Georgia , Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina continue to face “systemic societal discrimination” according to international reports. More and more Roma children end up being trafficked by their families or criminal gangs to the capital cities in the Western Europe . School drop outs rates in rural area are sometimes well over 90% for children 12 years old or older. Poor quality of education corroborated with strong negative prejudice translates in the highest percentage of youth unemployment of all ethnic groups in the Council of Europe region. Among the Syrian refugees the situation of Roma groups is one of the worst, Roma children being the most vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse from all the refugee children in Turkey.
Change is not impossible but involves a few fundamental reforms when it comes to the focus of the international and national interventions.
Short term projects cannot work. The majority of Roma communities have been exposed for decades and sometimes centuries to strong discrimination. The communities are suspicious to outsiders interventions and have still strong memories of forced deportations, extreme violence including genocide and forced instutionalisation of their children. A good majority of these communities are resistant to change and have either unrealistic expectations of EU funding due to irresponsible promises of populist politicians or a very low tolerance for other interventions due to previous failed projects.
Medium to long term projects that focus on children and building trust and participation of the community need to be prior to investments focused on more complex interventions meant to address the huge socio-economic gap between the Roma communities and majorities.
Interventions focused on producing reports, organizing conferences and writing national strategies and action plans need to represent no more than 2-3% of the money invested at the grassroots especially in the poorest compact urban and rural Roma communities. A much stronger focus on interventions ensuring the wellbeing of Roma children and the real employability of Roma youth is also needed.
The involvement of independent, honest and successful Roma experts should be another priority within both the bureaucracies in charge of designing the projects but also among the implementing agencies.
At the moment I am writing this the Romanian TV stations and radios run mind-numbing advertising about EU funded projects meant to tackle social exclusion of Roma. Building Roma Resource Centers is something that has been done in the past and proved to be expensive, unsustainable and more important ineffective. Paying NGOs to run trainings for preparing Roma for employment has been statistically a disastrous approach. EU money are used to expensively advertise things that are proven to be failures.
EU funds need to have an impact in the life of the most vulnerable Roma communities . At this moment , at least in Romania a far too much amount of the available money supports TV stations, corrupt mayors, weak state institutions and NGOs to continue doing what we already know will not work.
This needs to change. There is enough experience and expertise available within bureaucracies and civil society to be able to address the existing problems. The only things missing seem to be the mechanisms and sometimes the will to do it.