Wednesday, January 22, 2014

AFP: Sweden criticises Romania for not using EU funds for Roma

Sweden said Tuesday it was "shocking" that Romania has failed to use billions of euros available to it in EU funding to integrate its indigent Roma minority.

"It is shocking that we allocate resources which the member states don't apply for," Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag told Swedish news agency TT.

"It is deeply worrisome that Romania for example doesn't apply for the EU-resources that exist to improve the Roma's situation."

The issue is a sensitive one in Sweden, as in many of the wealthier EU countries, where there is a perception that beggars in the streets hail from the ostracised Roma community.

Britain, for instance, has passed legislation restricting access to welfare benefits for new EU immigrants -- a move seen aimed at citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, both of which has EU migration curbs lifted this year.

According to the European Commission, Romania received 3.68 billion euros ($5 billion) from the European Social Fund between 2007 and 2013.

Some of that money was meant to go to integrating Roma into society -- an initiative other EU nations hope will remove incentive for Roma people to emigrate.

But Romania has difficulty absorbing the EU funds, and has used only 27 percent of them to date despite calls for it to be more ambitious.

Two members of Ullenhag's Liberal Party recently stirred debate in Sweden on the the topic with a tribune in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper under the title: "Let Romania Pay the Bill."

Nine out of 10 beggars in Sweden are Roma, Stockholm city councillor Lotta Edholm and European parliament candidate Erik Scheller contended.

"For Romania and others, the answer must be clear: you will have to pay to give your citizens a decent living. Be it through social protection available to all in their homeland or because we'll send you the bill," they wrote.

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