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Gabriela Hrabaňová: Third EU Roma summit once more "about Roma without Roma"

Brussels, 18.3.2014 17:41, (ROMEA)

The European Commission (EC) is convening its third European Roma Summit. With not quite three weeks to go before 4 April, the program of the summit remains unknown and invitations were only just now sent out to Romani organizations.

What we do know today is that it will be a particularly important political event, as it will be attended by the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and four other members of the EC. The target group of the event is not Romani people, but the Member States and the leadership of local-level administrations.

The target group of the event is not Romani people, but the Member States and the leadership of local-level administrations.

The first Roma Summit was convened in September 2008 in Brussels by the office of then-European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Vladimír Špidla. It was opened by President Barroso and attracted more than 500 representatives of the EC, international organizations, the Member States, and representatives of non-profits. 

That summit did not result in any political obligations or agreement on how a unified EU Roma policy, which nonprofit organizations were advocating for through the European Roma Policy Coalition, might come about. While Romani people were present, Romani activist Rudko Kawczynski said at the time that they were "decorative at best". 

Nevertheless, the Czech Republic took advantage of the summit to convene the first European Roma Platform the following year, where the "Ten Principles of Roma Inclusion" were approved. The second Roma Summit was then convened by the EC in collaboration with the Spanish Presidency of the EU in the Spanish city of Córdoba on 8 April 2010.

Even though that meeting did not enjoy as much high-level political participation (only two commissioners and a couple of ministers) the negotiations were much more interactive and more Romani people were involved. The outcome was agreement on a so-called road map by the presidential triumverate (Spain, Belgium, Hungary) which set the direction for the creation of a new framework for EU Roma Policy.

Today we already have that framework. Every Member State must design a National Action Plan for Roma Inclusion and submit it to the EC, among other matters.

The upcoming third summit, entitled "Going local on Roma inclusion", is meant to ensure there is motivation and political will to implement these policies at national, regional and local level. Because it is about policy implementation, the target group of the summit, as mentioned above, is the Member States and local-level authorities, not Roma themselves.

The fact that this high-level political event is not being organized either for Roma or with them, and that it is not taking into consideration the significant role played by Romani civil society in the process of policy design and implementation, has become a target of criticism by many nonprofit organizations. Romani nonprofits should be an integral part of this process.

If the summit were to take this into consideration and focus on recognizing the importance and work of nonprofits, the EC would send an important signal to both local and national-level authorities, contribute toward strengthening the civil sector, and provide a counter-balance to the current upsurge in populism. Such a step is immeasurably important for ensuring the success of Roma inclusion, and not just at local level.

According to the information now available, there will be a Romani man or woman lecturing on each panel of the summit, which means there will be four Romani people out of approximately 30 speakers. The other panelists are the very highest representatives of the EC, the President and other Commissioners.

It is most probable that the President of Romania - who was recently fined by his country's own equality body for making racist remarks about Roma - will also attend, as will representatives of international organizations and Member State ministers. There will also be mayors of towns and villages on the panels.

As has become traditional, this program was designed without consulting nonprofits. The panels as scheduled frequently feature speakers who have yet to confirm their political obligation toward Romani people and who have failed to participate in debates on this topic with those concerned.

The question of Roma representation at the summit also concerns audience participation. The original plan was to organize a meeting in a hall with room for 237 people, where approximately 50 seats were supposed to be reserved for Romani representatives (half of them from selected Member States and half from the EC). 

Probably as a result of criticism by nonprofits, the venue of the organization has now been moved to a room with 500 seats. This step will facilitate much broader participation by civil society, but it seems that the organizations now being invited at the last minute will have to pay for their own accommodation and travel.

Many of these organizations, as Romani activist Valeriu Nicolae has noted on his blog in an open letter to the EC representatives, have already long collaborated with the EC - by which we are to understand that they do not criticize it. It is interesting to note that 20 former Romani interns at the EC are among those invited whose travel to Brussels will be paid for by the EC.

Given the insufficient involvement of Romani people both in the design of the summit and during its actual convening, several organizations led by the European Roma Grassroots Organizations Network have decided to hold a civil society gathering the day before the summit. These organizations will draft a joint declaration as well as hold several events on the day of the summit, including a "Some Eat" breakfast to draw attention to the importance of involving Roma and the need to invest in developing the capacity of Romani organizations at local level.

These events will also mark the start of ERGO Network's campaign for a Wall-Free Europe. This campaign will mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and will draw attention to the mental and physical walls being erected between non-Roma and Roma all over Europe today. 

Gabriela Hrabaňová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Evropská unie, Konference, Summit, zprávy, Roma Summit


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