Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The Economist: The Romani row, revisited
LAST month the European Commission organised a two-day conference in Bucharest. The ostensibly bland theme of the event—“Contribution of EU funds to the integration of Roma”—was enlivened by the politically charged atmosphere following Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision in the summer to expel thousands of Romani migrants, most of them Romanian, from France. The event was the first real get-together of Romani leaders, Romanian government representatives and the EU since the expulsions.
No clear consensus emerged on the impact of EU funds on Romania's Romanies, most of whom live in dire conditions. This is no great surprise considering that red tape and ministerial incompetence has meant that only about 1% of the €20 billion allocated to Romania in EU structural funds has actually been spent. Government programmes for the Romanies, such as positive discrimination for universities, barely scratch the surface. Most of Romania's Romanies remain marginalised, with little or no access to healthcare, education or social services.
But the conference did have two interesting outcomes. One was a discussion of an excellent piece of research
The second was a paper by Nicolae Gheorghe, a well-known Romani activist and a former adviser to the OSCE on Romani issues (declaration of interest: I edited Mr Gheorghe's paper, a summary of which was published on the Guardian website). Mr Gheorghe believes that Romania is not taking responsibility for the Romani issue. The key part of his document reads:
“This is a Romanian problem, not a European one. "Getting rid of the gypsies" has been part of the Romanian psyche since the deportations in WW2. The mass Roma migration since EU accession serves a similar purpose of getting Roma out of the community... All this makes me worry. The Roma as an EU citizen is a subtle argument but the solution has to be found here, in Romania.”
Romania has come under considerable pressure from France, since the expulsions, to come up with a new strategy for the Roma. Mr Gheorghe is concerned that the French could use the issue as an excuse to block Romania’s entry into the European Union's passport-free Schengen zone, scheduled for March 2011 (a recent EU Observer storyseemed to confirm his fears).
Mr Gheorghe also gives insight into the story of Roma migration. He says that when small numbers of Roma migrants started to appear in French and Italian municipalities there was initially some sympathy for them, particularly among left-wing mayors who were willing to make an effort at integrating these newcomers.
But two factors changed this: a flood of new Romani migrants broke down this sympathy; and France decided on a crackdown. Although it was this year's expulsions that made the headlines, France's move against the Roma began back in 2005, when Mr Sarkozy, then the interior minister, ordered his prefects to take a “firm approach towards semi-sedentary settlements that settle mostly on the outskirts of cities.”
Mr Sarkozy took a beating in the international press over the expulsions, and at home is as unpopular as ever. But the issue hasn’t gone away. While “voluntary” repatriations of Romanies from France continue, on arriving home many of the “returnees” simply turn around and go back to France. (I twice visited Barbulesti, a village near Bucharest, to try to meet some of the Roma returnees, but the mayor told me they had all returned to France.) by the World Bank, which states that the cost of educating Romania's Romanies would be far exceeded by the contribution an educated Romani workforce would make to the national economy. The opportunity presented by the report suggested that all the chatter—by both government representatives and Romani leaders—about strategy, empowerment, consultation, rights, monitoring, community projects, exclusion, research, discrimination and poverty was missing the point.