ERGO Annual Members Platform: With Roma about Roma

28 November 2013

As the 2013 ERGO Network platform meeting in Brussels comes to a close, the 50 participating representatives from more than twenty organizations travel home to process two days of heavy reflections. The meeting, held from November 25th to 26th, gave rise to some inspiring presentations of concrete initiatives and future plans, but also fostered direct communication between activists and EU-level officials through two public conferences and one session about a new Commission program.

The meeting opened on Monday with an ERGO Network members platform, where participating organizations presented their own work; next, they split in small groups to speak about media responses, advocacy and migration. In the afternoon, in cooperation with the European Economic and Social Committee and European Foundation Centre, ERGO ran a public event The European Crisis, the Growing Extremism against Roma and the Electoral Impasse, which provided narratives of diverse realities of the impact of the crisis on Roma.

On Tuesday, the meeting formed two working groups. One developed the 2014 strategies for joint activities and advocacy, and another explored — with ERGO members, along with representatives from the European Commission — the Commission’s Community-Led Local Development Programme. After lunch, participants headed to a public workshop at the Park Inn Hotel titled Roma Women Empowerment, organized by ERGO in collaboration with EWL and DG Enlargement. Here, participants and external guests were given a sense of the implementation of the ERGO project Our Space, Our Place, Our Case, and some additional remarks on future steps.

A few of the platform events brought grassroots workers to the table with EU officials, in particular the Monday afternoon event at the European Parliament. It was opened by Ákos Topolánszky (EESC rapporteur Roma on integration measures) and Kinga Göncz (MEP S&D) and followed by the presentations of Roma people realities grassroots Roma activists.

“The extremism Czech Republic is growing, Roma are the main target,” said Ivanka Conkova from Konexe in her presentation. Currently, the despair about the effects of the economic crisis of the majority population is transforming into scapegoating Roma as deviant citizens. Ostrava is a strongly industrialized, sprawling town, where job opportunities are scarce for all people. In this climate, neo-Nazis have found fertile ground to mobilize citizens to join their anti-Roma demonstrations. Though Roma and non-Roma have come together under the name Blokujeme! (We block!) to resist persisting weekly neo-fascist marches, the intimidation tactics of these extremist groups have persisted long after they dropped out of the international press.

Roma inclusion policies often fail due to lack of political will. In France and all around Europe, an overwhelming number of politicians either attack Roma to gain votes or simply avoid any public stand against anti-Gypsyism as they fear not to be reelected. On top of that, the economic crisis worsens the negative sentiments among the general public and makes any social intervention unpopular.

This issue of political will was addressed several times during the two-day platform. The frustration came not only by ERGO members and activists, but also from several employees of the Commission present on Tuesday morning.

“The problem is that funds dedicated to Roma cannot be distributed directly by the EU,” one European Commission representative said. “In this shared management structure, you don’t have a lot of room to move.” In other words, the Commission, and even the EU parliament, depend on member countries to implement international strategy. We need to put pressure on our governments, or they can get away with avoiding EU policies and strategies; but if social intervention is so unpopular, how can civil society create this pressure?

A few participating activists also used the two days of interactions with EU officials to bring messages from their communities to a higher level.

“I spoke to some Roma community members here in Brussels [when I arrived],” Lilya Makaveeva of Bulgaria’s Integro said. “They asked that I bring a message to the Commission: stop trying to integrate Roma…The more we talk about integrating Roma, the more antigypsyism increases.” She seemed most concerned with the way the word “integration” has been used in some cases to justify measures that force Roma to deny their identity or to completely assimilate.

Using the Monday afternoon meeting in the European Social and Economic Committee as an opportunity to advocate for more opportunities for this type of interaction between the grassroots and European authorities, ERGO members handed to DG Employment and Social Affairs the petition called: Make Roma (NGOs) equal actors in the policies targeting them! With more than 600 signatories, the petition asked that all relevant European Commission officials and prime ministers of Member States should take concrete measures in the next programming period (2014-2020) to break the status quo in terms of Roma policies and invite Roma partnership.


By Rebekah Ward and Simona Torotcoi




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