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Socio-economic inclusion and the fight against antigypsyism should complement each other

Open letter to
European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi
Western Balkan Heads of Economies and Governments of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Turkey
Secretary-General of the Regional Cooperation Council Majlinda Bregu
Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union

German Federal Foreign Office

As (pro-)Roma civil society organisations active in the Western Balkans and Turkey, we would like to draw your attention to the serious shortcomings of the Conclusions of the Second Ministerial Meeting on Roma Integration of the Ministers of the Western Balkans responsible for Roma integration on 28 June 2021. The Conclusions unfortunately do not make any reference to the fight against antigypsyism or at least to the fight against discrimination, despite respective obligations of the „Neighbourhood and Enlargement Countries”.

In June 2019, the Prime Ministers of the Western Balkans signed the “Declaration of Western Balkans Partners on Roma Integration within the EU Enlargement Process”, the so-called Poznan Declaration. In this Declaration they reiterate their “commitment for integration of Roma in their societies and pledge to step up their efforts as part of the European Union enlargement process and regional cooperation.”

The Prime Ministers pledged to strengthen their government structures to protect against discrimination and to establish specific sub-divisions for non-discrimination of Roma within formal non-discrimination bodies to process complaints by Roma, provide legal support to alleged victims and identify discrimination schemes, including institutional and hidden discrimination.

Further, they pledged to envisage a stronger role of the Western Balkans partners in the European Union’s post 2020 policy on Roma integration by ensuring their participation o in the process in an observer status at minimum.

In September 2020, the European Parliament adopted the Report on the Implementation of National Roma Integration Strategies: combating negative attitudes towards people with Romani background in Europe, requesting inter alia a legislative proposal for the equality, inclusion and participation of Romani people and combating antigypsyism.

In October 2020, the European Union adopted the new “EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation”, which is equally relevant for the countries in the Western Balkans. The new EU Framework identifies as a key priority the fight against antigypsyism as the root cause of social exclusion and racial or ethnic discrimination.

In March 2021, the Commission reaffirmed the importance of this new Framework when endorsing the EU Council Recommendations on Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation. The recommendations also refer to the responsibilities of the bodies for the promotion of equal treatment (‘equality bodies’) and assign them an important role in the fight against antigypsyism.

Following all these political declarations and recommendations, the fight against antigypsyism – the specific racism towards Roma – as the root cause of social exclusion and discrimination should have been in the focus of governments’ commitment in the Western Balkans.

However, neither the Conclusions of the Ministerial Meeting on Roma Integration on 27 October 2020 nor the Conclusions of the Second Ministerial Meeting on Roma Integration on 28 June 2021 make any reference to the fight against antigypsyism or at least to the fight against discrimination.

Instead, they focus on employment measures, completion of the geographic mapping exercise of Roma settlements, registration and the inclusion of Roma in the EU Green Deal. These are all very relevant issues that should be urgently addressed, but they all fall short of addressing the root cause of the exclusion of Roma.

This approach is not only in contradiction to the commitments of the Poznan Declaration and the new EU Roma Framework, it will also negatively affect the effectiveness of any other measure.

It is common knowledge that measures in the socio-economic sphere will have a limited impact if antigypsyism is not tackled. Experience demonstrates that without fighting racism among potential employers and colleagues, for example, active labour market measures are less effective, since racism among employers and colleagues is one of the major obstacles for the employment of Roma.

According to the Balkan Barometer, 25% of the interviewed persons are uncomfortable or somewhat uncomfortable working with a Romani person. 30% are uncomfortable or somewhat uncomfortable buying a product from a Romani person (or produced by a Romani person). This data should make it clear that it is indispensable to fight antigypsyism.

Active labour market measures, including the need to formalise work, are indispensable. They should, however, not only be implemented in the private sector, but also in the public sector, not least since all governments have legal obligations to promote employment of Roma in the public sector – what they have so far failed to adhere to.

The Poznan Declaration stipulates to “increase the employment rate of Roma in the public sector to the rate proportional of the number of Roma in the overall population and to increase the employment rate among Roma to at least 25 per cent”. However, none of the conclusions of the Ministerial Meetings refer to this pledge.

Looking at more general attitudes of the majority populations towards Roma, things are even worse: 68% of respondents feel uncomfortable or somewhat uncomfortable with marrying a Romani person or if their child would marry a Romani person. 33% are uncomfortable or somewhat uncomfortable inviting a Romani person to their house and 26% are uncomfortable or somewhat uncomfortable if their children attend school together with Romani children.

Against this background, it is difficult to understand why governments in the Western Balkans do not take the fight against antigypsyism serious and step up their efforts, and why European Union institutions and individual Member States are reluctant to encourage the governments in the Western Balkans to finally start fighting racism.
As long as this approach will not change, the current efforts in employment, housing, registration, etc. remain mere lip services, since they omit to fight the root cause for the social exclusion and discrimination of Roma in the Western Balkans.
Equality Bodies and Ombudspersons could play a crucial role in fighting antigypsyism, and with further intensifying the cooperation with Romani civil society they could achieve an impact in society and politics.

We therefore call upon the governments in the Western Balkans, the institutions of the European Union as well as individual Member States of the European Union to increase their efforts in the fight against antigypsyism in the Western Balkans by:

  • Conducting public awareness campaigns on fighting antigypsyism;
  • Establishing close cooperation with the Romani civil society in fighting antigypsyism;
  • Conducting regular trainings on fighting antigypsyism for several target groups, involving Roma as trainers;
  • Contributing to creating new policy and legal frameworks for fighting antigypsyism;
  • Ensuring the participation of Roma in Equality Bodies and Ombudsperson Institutions;
  • Including a specific chapter on the situation of Roma or on antigypsyism in the regular reports to the Parliaments.

Roma Active Albania, Otaharin (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians (Kosovo), Advancing Together (Kosovo), Phiren Amenca (Montenegro), RROMA (North Macedonia), Forum Roma Serbia (Serbia), Zero Discrimination Association (Turkey), Central Council of German Sinti and Roma (Germany), ERGO Network (Belgium)