The Roma issue at the top of the EU political agenda
The Roma issue is one of the top priorities under the Hungarian Presidency, and the Parliament and the Commission have defined the strategy to deal with it.
At the Tampere Summit (1999) the EU adopted the Guiding Principles for improving the situation of the Roma requiring the different Member States to adopt the measures proposed but with a national approach. The Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin, introduced some relevant legal changes (i.e. positive action, or the legal defence of Roma’s rights by legal entities).
During the last three years, the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission have addressed this issue, pursuing the aim of making the EU instruments and policies more effective as a necessary complement to actions driven by Member States. Certain circumstances and political decisions in Italy and France towards Roma people in past years gave a new political nature to the historical problem of their inclusion in European societies. The possibility that the economic crisis could force thousands of Roma EU citizens to travel to the western countries of the EU is still a reality that worries some Member States.
It is true that concrete measures have been taken (i.e. the adoption of Regulation (EC) No 1080/2006 of 5 July 2006 on the European Regional Development Fund, which extends eligibility for financial support for housing in favour of marginalized communities). And that, moreover, large amounts of money have been devoted to the inclusion of Roma people in the EU: in fact, the Commission recalls in its Communication - entitled “An EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020” and published on 5 April 2011 - that up to € 26.5 billion of EU funding are currently programmed towards the support of Member States' efforts in the field of social inclusion, including the support of efforts to help the Roma. But the situation of Roma has not changed significantly. Several NGOs claimed that a large portion of the budget for the Roma has disappeared into the pockets of local corrupt politicians and some organisations that are taking advantage of the sensitivity of the EU towards the Roma situation. The Roma Task Force established by the Commission in 2010 to tackle the use of EU Funds recognized that there is a lack of know-how and administrative capacity in some Member States to absorb EU funds, and insufficient involvement by civil society and by Roma communities themselves.
Poverty and racism are key problems for Roma people in their home countries (above all in Central and Eastern Europe) and, at the same time, they are the main reasons for migration, as FRA’s 2009 report suggested. The Directive 2004/38/EC of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States did not prevent the problems of Roma migrants in France and Italy. Roma inclusion “will never become reality without a proper legal basis, financial support and incentives, as well as an EU mechanism to coordinate the actions of stakeholders ranging from local governments to the Council, harnessing the advantages of multi-level governance”, recently stated MEP Lívia Járóka (rapporteur on the EU strategy on Roma inclusion, approved by the EP on 9 March last). The EU Strategy will not be successful without the leading role of Roma people, she added.
The Church should be taken into account as a relevant partner by the EU institutions in their Roma Strategy. Throughout her parishes, communities, congregations and organizations, with the effort of her priests, religious brothers and sisters, and volunteering lay people, the Church is developing in the EU relevant and permanent work on the ground with Roma people in order to dignify their life in their countries of origin, as well as in those countries to which they migrate. Her millenarian expertise and a background of the many experiences of her faithful with Roma people can be considered as examples of best practice, which are worthy of being shared. The Church is fully engaged in fighting against poverty, in educating people, and promoting the integral development of every human being and, for those reasons, is able to join with the Roma people in their daily life to integrate themselves in the society, respecting their strong self-awareness.