Reflecting on and taking responsibility for the “Rroma question”

Rroms 2

The “Rroma question” is a salient indicator of the crisis facing our political project and our public policies. A majority of institutions and European Member States are failing to treat the problem in a calm and efficient manner and are thus weakening their democratic foundations, built as they are on respect for fundamental rights.

There can be no exceptions to the rule of law lest it be called, in its entirety, into question. However, the Rroma “community”, numbering between 10 and 12 million people according to the Council of Europe (a significant portion of the 507 million EU inhabitants) – is faced with systematic exceptions.

A heterogeneous population, as evidenced by the diversity of names that designate their members – gypsies, Travellers, tziganes, etc. – they are victims of universally efficient mechanisms that compete to isolate and marginalise them irrespective of the declared statements or desires of public authorities that engage with them.

In France, the inter-ministerial circular on the 26th of August 2012 regarding the eviction of illegal camps is exemplary. The Left, having just taken office, could be proud of this humanist document that would inform public policies relating to the Rroma.

This circular initiated the dismantlement of temporary and discriminatory measures that limited access for Rromas to the workforce – in this case, Romanians and Bulgarians. It highlighted the place that should be reserved for them in a reinforced process of dialogue where NGOs also play a fundamental role.

A chasm has opened, however, between that which was legitimately expected in terms of results, and that of the on the ground practices and realities. An article that was published in Le Monde in January 2014 revealed that the government had conducted an unprecedented number of evictions of Rroma camps in 2013.

A report by the Human Rights League (LDH) and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) emphasized that, in 2014, 80% of those living in slums had been evicted. The Inter-Ministerial Delegation for Accommodation and Lodgement (DIHAL) estimated that there were 17,451 people living in slums in November 2014 and that 13,483 people were evicted in the same year. A simple comparison of these numbers illustrates how the Rroma, who for the most part benefited from freedom of movement within the European area, have become one of the key targets of campaigns designed to demonstrate the pseudo-efficiency of deportation policies.

France is not the only country struggling to design and implement effective public policies that benefit the Rroma. Within the EU, the strategies adopted and deployed with the intention of giving the Rroma their rightful place, motivated by varying degrees of good faith, are diverse both in nature and in terms of their success. This justified the establishment of specific assistance programmes and support for dedicated public policies.

A Senate report dating from 2011 serves as a reminder that the European Commission presented a Communication, entitled “An EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020” to the European Parliament and the Council that very same year. Mechanisms for the integration of Rroma do exist: the European Social Fund (ESF); the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), used for the implementation of integration projects in France; or even the PROGRESS programme that raises awareness and promotes the work of relevant NGOs.Different countries in the EU can mobilise resources in order to facilitate the integration of their respective Rroma populations within a dedicated national framework. Spain, for example, has not put as much of an emphasis on expelling Rroma from their camps as France. To implement their policies Spain has earmarked 6.7% of their 637 million euros in European funds – dedicated to helping the most vulnerable segments of society – for helping their Rroma communities.

Nevertheless, the ESF and the ERDF are tools that require some familiarisation. For example, the funds in question are generally not deposited in advance, the rules pertaining to their procurement are excessively complex and beneficiary Member States need to co-finance the projects. This renders securing funding particularly complex for countries like Romania: their use of European funds allotted for these policies is tragically low at less than 10%. The rates are similarly low in neighbouring Bulgaria (10%) and Hungary (20%).

European institutions, public authorities and local leaders are thus confronted with a complex situation set against the backdrop of an economic crisis, previously inconceivable globalisation as well as uncertainty around the definition of a European identity and a political platform that is sometimes equally true at the national level, such as in France.

The seriousness of the crisis is particularly relevant in France, for while the government espoused a humanist political agenda, they also implemented policies that leave little place for the co-construction of a future by Rroma with public services and NGOs. Today the government is confronted with the obligation to manage potentially explosive situations with local authorities that now fall on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

It is striking that over the political maturation of the last year, progressive politicians, having chosen to implement policies that flagrantly contradict the spirit of the 2012 inter-ministerial circular, have not benefited at all. Some of them may even have suffered by implementing a certain style of management for this dossier that others – on the opposite end of the political spectrum – were more likely to put in place.

It is in light of this analysis that the Cercle de la Licra-Réfléchir les droits de l’homme and EuroCité jointly decided to hold a series of conferences and workshops that began on the 25th of June 2015 with an appraisal of the various strategies for including the Rroma within the European Union. This series is designed to shift perspectives and compare experiences, practices and on the ground observations, in order to succeed in finding a path out of this political and humanitarian crisis.

Progress is possible and interactions between stakeholders can sometimes lead to positive developments. We should be proud that the National Assembly recently adopted a bill on the status, reception and accommodation of Rroma. This document, in line with the spirit of a request by the Council of State, aimed to eliminate the “circulation booklet” that was required of Rroma and thus put an end to a discriminatory policy that was a relic of the 19th century. It also reminds local authorities of their responsibilities to strengthen reception conditions for Rroma and to note the ongoing settlement process by sorting out the issue of Rroma camps.

A sense of fatality is not more applicable to those labelled “Rroma” than it is for any other human community or group of individuals. Based on this observation and on the political urgency resulting from the rise of populism, nationalism and other xenophobic and racist ideologies, the Cercle de la Licra-Réfléchir les droits de l’Homme and EuroCité decided to put in place the resources for a study on the tools necessary for reflecting on, and taking responsibility for, the “Rroma question.”

Jennifer Lempert, member of EuroCité

Marie-Nadine Prager, Vice-President of EuroCité

Martine Benayoun, President of the Cercle de la licra-Réfléchir les droits de l’Homme

Nicolas Leron, President of EuroCité

Christian Castagna, member of EuroCité and President of Tukki

* French to English translation: Gregory Sharp

(illustration : philippe leroyer /