UKREN blog

Wednesday 18 April 2018

EU Roma Week

I had the pleasure to participate in the EU Roma Week in Brussels in early April. Organised by the European Parliament, European Commission, Council of Europe, European Economic and Social Committee and the City of Brussels, with strong contributions from ENAR and UNDP 9among others), it brought together Roma NGO activists from across Europe. 

I came away with mixed feelings. Positive, because there were so many young Roma activists there. Smart, knowledgeable and empowered to put across their views. I guess there were some 200 there. That’s good news for Roma rights in Europe. Some 10 years or more ago, Roma NGOs were predominantly run by older Roma men. Now there is much more of an equal gender balance and - if participation at the EU Roma Week is a clue - it has shifted to more younger activists. 

Positive because one of the sessions tackled the predominant but less discussed issue of racial profiling by police forces. ENAR produced a useful briefing paper to give a snapshot on this issue from across Europe: ‘Promoting fair and efficient policing for Roma and Travellers across Europe’. The testimonies of panelists and audience participants was shocking. Think ‘stop and search’ but add in violence by police against Roma. Examples of police in Germany ‘flagging’ Roma and Sinti on police databases as ‘changes residence regularly’, a code for Roma that meant police should treat them with suspicion. Romanian Roma having to give DNA samples. French police using tear gas against Traveller women and children to harass them. Police media work portraying all Roma as criminals. In Hungary, Roma being imprisoned for walking on the road (even if there wasn’t a pavement). Claire Fernandez from ENAR asked the audience to raise a hand if they had been subject to police harassment during the last year. Half the participants did so. I hope that the discussion was (ethically) recorded and that these powerful EU institutions who were organising EU Roma Week will actually do something about it.

In another event I learnt from an EU Commissioner that the Commission has begun infringement proceedings against Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary on segregated education for Roma pupils.  

The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency data showed that the situation had got worse across Europe with an increase from 10% to 15% of Roma children across Europe being placed in segregated and sub-standard schools. The Director of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency said the situation of Roma was the biggest human rights issue that Europe faced.

That leads to some negatives. I did say mixed feelings at the beginning of this piece. Although there were elements of a good discussion/debate (for example the session on the EU Framework on Roma devoted 50% of the time to feedback, comments and questions from the Roma participant audience), overall it was a missed opportunity. Most sessions were run with large panels giving set piece speeches or PowerPoint presentations. Many (but not all - it was so heartening to see Soraya Post MEP joining every session) of the senior speakers did their bit then immediately left. It struck me that it was all about telling the Roma how much the EU institutions were doing for them. Time for three questions after two and a half hours of presentations isn’t a discussion. I know that is the EU style. For elites to complement each other and tell the audience how good their work has been. I don’t think they stopped in their busy lives to consider the audience - Roma activists - and their experience, knowledge and needs, that could really help the elites in their work. Many Roma paid their own way to come to Brussels. Yes, the networking around the event was good. But the standard of exchange in the sessions was very much one way. 

To characterise the EU approach, I happened to be in the lift at the same time as a chair of one event, after it had finished. She, a senior Director in the European Commission, was annoyed and said out loud “They [the Roma] need to learn to ask questions strategically”. 

Different lives. Different values.


Alan Anstead, UKREN Coordinator

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