epapOn 20th November, Eurodiaconia organised a side event at the ‘European Platform against Poverty Annual Convention’, which is an event organised annually by the European Commission. Eurodiaconia was selected to partner with other European organisations to organise a side event on ‘Active inclusion for Roma: an integrated approach to Roma inclusion’.

Speakers at the event included ERIO, EAPN, and representative from the European Commission’s Roma Team in DG Justice.

Catherine Mallet from Eurodiaconia opened the event explaining some of the key EU tools that could support an integrated approach to Roma inclusion, including the 2008 active inclusion Recommendation, but also the recent Recommendation (2013) on ‘effective Roma integration measures’. She also highlighted the role of the National Roma Contact Points that should ensure an integrated approach to Roma inclusion as they oversee the implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategies, as well as the need for cross-sectoral policies at EU level across the Commission DGs for example.

Mr Ivan Ivanov, Director of ERIO (the European Roma Information Office) highlighted the increasing number of civil society actors getting involved in Roma issues and that the EU had also become more active after realising the gravity of the situation. Many policies aimed at the social inclusion of Roma have failed for a variety of reasons he said, including a lack of strategic focus (strong emphasis on pilot projects with temporally limited funding; lack of sustainable programmes/policies), low levels of Roma participation in public life (Roma are not involved in the public debate on Roma issues, a lack of an integrated approach (targeting both poverty and discrimination), a lack of political will (politicians fear the consequences of helping Roma due to the rise of extreme nationalism) and finally high levels of discrimination against Roma (also structural/institutional, fuelled by media).

Paul Ginnell from EAPN (European Anti-Poverty Network) gave a presentation on the active inclusion approach and how it could be applied to Roma communities. He highlighted that active inclusion was not the same as a comprehensive overarching strategy to combat poverty and social exclusion, but a key element in implementing one. He also stressed what active inclusion is NOT, i.e. activation with an employment only focus. He explained the benefits of the three pillar approach of access to services, inclusive labour markets and adequate minimum income.

Three presentations of good practice interventions from local level initiatives were given from Eurodiaconia member EHO (Ecumenical Humanitarian Organisation), Eurocities member from the City of Glasgow (Scotland) and ERGO Network member from Czech Republic.

Ms Stanka Jankovic from EHO presented their Award winning project “Social Inclusion and Improvement of living conditions of Roma” which is aimed specifically at improving the quality of housing for Roma. The project has not only upgraded houses and improved sanitation standards, but also had a positive impact on school attendance and employment. The project stresses the participatory aspect which is essential for sustainability and ownership. She explained that this inclusive, ‘dweller driven approach’ has proven to be an effective way to create partnerships between the Roma community, state institutions and municipalities, and is currently being applied to wider areas across Serbia.

Mr Gordon Smith from the City of Glasgow (Eurocities member) presented their work with Roma in a number of deprived areas in Glasgow with diverse ethnic populations, including Roma. He explained that they had to develop, implement and monitor an Action Plan. They provided a number of services to work with the Roma communities, and offered employment and training/educational opportunities such as construction skills, CV preparation, interview skills, building confidence, ESOL courses as well as providing money advice, access to benefits and bank accounts.  He stressed the need to always take the long-term view but also the importance of partnership.

ERGO representative Kumar Vishwanathan from the Czech Republic showed success stories (video) of Roma and non-Roma Czech communities living together in social cohesion. He also gave an example of how top down housing solutions from the local municipality as a bad practice example, because they had not asked the Roma people what they wanted.

Representative from DG Justice, Ms Axelle Cheney explained that the EU is aiming at an integrated approach at various levels: it recognises the fact that Roma inclusion should focus both on poverty and discrimination; it comprises multiple aspects, including education, employment, health and housing; it focuses not only on Roma but also on other disadvantaged minority groups and it entails various policy tools which offer space for broad stakeholder involvement. Ms Cheney explained that every year, progress made in EU Member States is assessed through an annual report, to which civil society stakeholders have access and can contribute. The EC has set up a network of Roma contact points (in each Member State, there is one contact point responsible for coordinating the Roma inclusion strategy. Finally she highlighted that the Council recommendation on “effective Roma integration measures’ from December 2013 was not formulated by the EC, but by Member States, which means that EU member states have committed to proactively engaging in Roma integration  and that stakeholders should remind them of this commitment.

Mr Paul d’Auchamp, from the European office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rightsconcluded from the various interventions that a key issue is the lack of implementation at national, regional and local level. He said that although the EU has invested a great deal of energy into its Roma inclusion policies, and overall, these are sensible policies, the main challenge lies at a national level. Civil society stakeholders have an important role in this; they should urge member states to demonstrate more commitment and coherence regarding implementation. Also, there is a need to increase participation by Roma (“you can’t support Roma without involving them”) and to emphasise recognition of Roma culture. We need a human rights-based approach he stressed, pointing out that UN procedures can help with this and enable closer cooperation between the EU and the UN.

For more information about this event, please contact Catherine.mallet@eurodiaconia.org