By Chelsea Kallery
On June 29, 2000, the European Union (EU) adopted Council Directive 2000/43/EC, also called the Race Equality Directive (RED), with the goal of providing a legal framework for addressing issues of discrimination based on race or ethnicity. As it was a directive for the entire EU, complaints using it were to be taken to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), as opposed to any national courts.
On February 2, 2005, it was declared that 2005-2015 would be the Decade of Roma Inclusion in twelve countries in the European Union (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Spain.) This was a time to decisively and wholeheartedly address issues of discrimination that were present in each country, and with the guidance of the European Union, the countries would be able to develop policies and National Action Plans that would mirror one another, creating a standard for progress.
On April 5, 2011, six years after the start of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, the European Commission adopted the report entitled An EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020. In this report, the European Commission requested that member countries prepare or revise their own national strategies to help achieve concrete goals for Roma inclusion by the end of December, 2011. The report called attention to four areas of disparity in European society: access to education, employment, healthcare and housing.
Together, these pieces of legislation could to be used to address the severe and constant discrimination faced by Roma people in many parts of Europe. Although they do provide an outline for action, their effectiveness is questionable at best. The report from the European Commission claims that specific action is needed to assist the Roma, but it does not actually present a path for countries to follow. For each of the four main areas of disparity, there are certain suggestions of focus. For example, to improve access to education, the priority is for Roma children to complete primary school. The Council of Europe states that it will train mediators to address discrimination in communities throughout the EU, that teacher training is important, and that early childhood education should be included. These are all rather vague assertions, providing the opportunity for wide variance of interpretation by each country.
In fact, that is exactly what happened. In Hungary, for example, kindergarten is mandatory, whereas the Czech Republic allows its citizens the options of either kindergarten or preparatory classes.
Additionally, simply because the EU released documents containing suggestions for action on issues of inequality does not guarantee that they will be followed or enforced. In her piece entitled, Segregation of Roma Children in Education: Addressing Structural Discrimination through the Race Equality Directive, Lilla Farkas outlines ways in which the RED can be used to assist Roma families. The second part is directed specifically at discrimination in schools. Her interpretation of the RED is thorough and would perhaps be helpful if it were distributed to and discussed with Roma communities. Being commissioned by the European Commission, the piece could even be translated and used by the mediators they mention in their Framework.
The role of the mediators is not clarified in the Framework. While one report on The Situation of Roma School Mediators and Assistants in Europe was released in 2006, and other information has been issued for the health sector, it is unclear what they have done since these projects took place, and whether or not all areas of focus have been sufficiently researched and addressed. (In January 2013, there was a meeting in Brussels to discuss the mediator program, ROMED. The meeting lasted roughly two days and discussions were two or three hours each.)
With the close of the Decade of Roma Inclusion fast approaching, it will be interesting to see how well the EU managed to achieve its goals in assisting the Roma people. While some independent projects have resulted in positive momentum, such as the Roma Mentor Project in Hungary, others are still in the discussion and research-gathering phase. It is not entirely surprising how slowly official developments have been made, especially considering how long it took the EU to provide any sort of guiding document to its member states on Roma inclusion. However, the lack of action does not indicate a change in societal temperaments toward the Roma people. The EU itself has much to do for the Roma. Now that the issue of discrimination is on the table, perhaps the EU can organize around some successful projects and disseminate successful models to other areas in need.
Chelsea Kallery is a Masters student in the Comparative and International Education program and a student in the Globalization, Migration, and Education Fall 2013 course.