Írta: Rajcsányi Gellért
You have been a member of the European Parliament for eight years as the first Roma MEP from Central Europe. How has the European Roma situation changed?
In terms of the top priorities – improving employment, education, housing and health – the situation of the European Roma has not improved despite the significant institutional and financial resources brought to bear. In fact, the plight of the Roma has in fact deteriorated, and therefore continued to weaken Europe’s social cohesion as a whole. The EU developed a range of useful tools, mechanisms and funds to foster the inclusion of Roma. But these tended to be scattered across many policy areas and poorly monitored. Therefore, their effects and benefits have been both limited and hard to measure. It became clear that the status quo was no longer sustainable and the reason why the European Roma Strategy had to be adopted.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution on the EU's strategy for the European integration of Roma in March 2011. You were the lead author of that strategy. What is the essence of it, and what programmes has it brought to bear?
The socio-economic inclusion of Roma is possible, desirable and, above all, necessary for our future. The involvement of the EU in such a long-term initiative can make a huge difference. With these principles in mind, the basic aim of the report was to propose a strategic framework in which, as Member States come together to co-operate on specific measures, the general oversight would be within the European Community structures, with periodic reports and recommendations. The report calls for the adoption of a place-based and inclusive action plan that is prepared and implemented on a multi-level basis. It’s inclusive and able to evolve as needed, and the crucial responsibilities are placed at the level most appropriate – usually as grassroots as possible – rather than Brussels taking over.
Are any specific countries emphasized in the strategy? Are there conflicts between the approaches of the EU and the member states?
The strategy targets all Member States of the EU, but of course greater emphasis is placed on countries with a significant Roma population. This means they need a more elaborate national strategy, and one whose implementation will be more closely monitored. One of the innovations of the EU strategy was to involve enlargement countries, the aim being to to target the Roma populations concentrated in the Western Balkans as soon as possible. According to the progress reports, in most of the accession countries of the former Yugoslavia, the process for the social inclusion of Roma has slowed – and in some cases, stalled completely. The Commission should enhance its efforts to involve enlargement countries, regardless of their stage of accession, to mobilize the Instrument on Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), and to pressure them through the mechanism of the Stabilisation and Association (SAA) process.
Just how many Roma are living in Hungary seems to be a matter of debate. What is your estimate?
According to the 2001 census, less than 200,000 people identified themselves as Roma, which is an unrealistically low number according to all academic and NGO estimates. The Council of Europe estimates around 700,000, whereas the Hungarian national strategy indicates a Roma population of 750,000, which I find realistic and in line with more recent research. The results from the 2011 census will be very interesting, and hopefully useful for more accurate policy-making.
What are the main sources of conflict between Roma and the non-Roma communities? Have things changed in this regard since inauguration of the Orbán government in 2010? There have been disturbing instances of violence, including the serial murder of Roma and the Olaszliszka lynching by Roma. What effects have these events had on the coexistence of these groups?
I believe that the main sources of tension are the growing distance between Roma and non-Roma communities and the deepening of existential despair throughout Europe. The economic reverberations following the collapse of communism and the restructuring of national economies cast many Roma – not to mention their companions of majority origin – from the labour market and gradually pushed them out of mainstream society. With their traditional communities disrupted and their limited social mobility, Roma became the most excluded subgroup of society and therefore almost completely disconnected from national economies. Almost all of the shared social spaces disappeared. There are fewer and fewer real and profound firsthand interactions among majority and Roma communities. The tensions that have arisen from social and economic deprivation and the imminent threat of ethnic conflict are not singular to Hungary. We have seen such an eruption of social conflict in several, mainly new Member States of the EU, and the existential insecurity caused by the global recession is likely to deteriorate the situation further. Two years is too short a time span to reverse or even to significantly decelerate these harmful trends, but I believe that the Hungarian government has the necessary political will and the professional expertise, and that several promising initiatives will bear fruit.
One can find abject poverty in some of the Hungarian villages inhabited by Roma people. What kinds of initiatives can spark the development in these communities? Are the Roma themselves doing enough to break out of this vicious circle of destitution?
Unfortunately, there are very few projects that could be considered models in the European Union. Therefore, we must make a clear distinction between good practices and those projects that have obviously failed. That’s why it’s important to extend the scope of projects to include better monitoring. That said, it’s equally important to note “worst practices”: a list of mistakes to avoid, if you will. We also need to track projects that met with success, but only due to local or limited circumstances that make them impossible to transpose elsewhere. Those projects that are accepted as “good practices” and are proposed for broader implementation must be independently and impartially analysed to avoid the inherent conflict of interest when contractors evaluate their own projects, or often optimistic reports of government-financed and politically biased NGOs. Social inclusion is a difficult, long and multifaceted process, and the European Union can only take responsibility for 10 percent of any success in this arena. I’d say an additional 20 percent rests on national governments and another 20 percent on local authorities. The crucial 50 percent rests on Roma themselves.
Both the EU and Hungary invested heavily in improving of the situation of the Roma in the last 20 years. How were these funds used? What are some success stories? Were there notable failures?
The so called "Roma Task Force" of the European Commission was set up in late 2010 to analyse the use of EU funds for Roma inclusion. Although the study had to rely on data provided by the Member States themselves, the results were sobering. They found evidence neither for appropriate measures in place to tackle the social and economic problems, nor enough data to evaluate the effectiveness of projects. The document also highlights the extremely low awareness and usage of funds other than the Social Fund. In 2008, the Hungarian State Audit Office has also conducted a study on the issue, with similar findings. Changes in the situation of Roma could not be quantified due to the lack of data, and there were no methods for the targeted utilization and monitoring of funds. In short, both studies found that the lion’s share of the money was simply wasted and only a fraction reached the actual target group.
With two years left in this government’s term, do you hope for a substantive advance? With respect to the Roma, does the Orban government have an answer to the agenda of the radical right-wing Jobbik party?
I believe that the complex problems arising from the Roma settlements can only be remedied by complex reintegration programmes and the consistent implementation of the national social inclusion strategy. I find it unacceptable to exploit the despair and hopelessness of either Roma or non-Roma Hungarians for the purposes of inciting social discord for narrow-minded political reasons. I trust that the re-energized Ministry of Human Resources will continue to boost their considerable efforts in all the aspects of social inclusion. I think the Ministry of Interior will continue to work hard to keep tensions from boiling over into open conflict. However, I don’t think we can expect a quick fix. It will be at least six or seven years until we can sense the change in the settlements and even longer to be able to produce substantive progress. According to the goals defined by my report, the EU strategy must prevent the perpetuation of deep poverty through generations in the short run; equalize the regional lag of the underdeveloped micro-regions in the medium term; and, in the long run, enable the hopeless, poverty-stricken masses of today to become the equal citizens of tomorrow.