Will Brussels galvanize the Czech Gov't to end segregation of Roma in the schools?
News server Romea.cz asked Dr Helen O'Nions, the editor of the Nottingham Law Journal and an HEA Fellow at the Centre for Conflict, Rights and Justice at Nottingham Law School, to discuss the significance of the European Commission's recent decision to launch infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic. The decision to begin infringement proceedings followed a complaint to the Commission filed 18 months ago by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Centre regarding discrimination against Romani children in their access to education.
"The Czech Government has persistently failed to address the continuing problem of segregation, consigning many Roma pupils to an inferior education, entrenching inequality in later life,... [and] this position has become legally unsustainable," Dr O'Nions said. "The Commission's decision to, albeit belatedly, commence enforcement action under the Race Equality Directive must be seen as a very positive step."
The initial phase of an enforcement action gives the state time to voluntarily comply. The Commission will then issue a reasoned opinion on the state's compliance or lack thereof.
Enforcement actions were resorted to by the Commission just to get the Member States to comply with the Race Equality Directive in the first place. "This measure was deployed against 14 states once it became apparent that they had not complied with the Race Equality Directive by transposing the requirements into their legal systems by the required date," Dr O'Nions said. "The threat seemed to be sufficient to 'encourage' states to comply."
Of the Member States that joined the EU in 2004, the Czech Republic was the very last to transpose the Race Equality Directive. Dr O'Nions pointed out that European Court of Human Rights judgments have also been brought against Croatia, Greece and Hungary with respect to Romani segregation in education.
"It is to be hoped that the threat of enforcement action could actually act as a catalyst in these states and consequently we may finally begin to see real action towards integration after a decade of international criticism," Dr O'Nions said. "The judgement against Hungary (Horvath and Kiss v Hungary 2013) is interesting as the Hungarian government had seemed keen to implement desegregation. However, recent elections saw a move to the right in Hungarian politics and the commitment towards Roma integration may now be in doubt. The case concerned two Roma men who had been consigned to schools for pupils with learning impairments, again following psychological and aptitude testing. As a result they had been unable to pursue their chosen careers due to a reduced curriculum. The Court recognised the ongoing discrimination that would inevitably result from these early years decisions and found a violation of the right to an education free from discrimination."
Justice Commissioner Reding threatened an enforcement action against France over its collective expulsions of Romani citizens from other EU Member States but ultimately did not convince her fellow Commissioners to back her. O'Nions said most of the cases the Commission eventually brings to the Court of Justice of the EU have concerned breaches of environmental law.
"This latest move," O'Nions said, "goes a clear step further by requiring the Czech authorities to report on the situation and account for the persistent failure to introduce desegregation initiatives. Ultimately the Commission have the discretion to bring the case before the Court of Justice of the EU who can award damages against the Member State - which may be backdated to the date that the state first became aware of the breach."
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