The year 2011 marked the commencement of a collective commitment of all EU Member States towards promoting national integration strategies for the Roma community. Member States concluded that weighted priority shall be attributed in the key areas of education, employment, healthcare and housing. Moreover, it aspired that the bulk of these objectives will be attained by 2020. Considering the fact that more than six years have gone by since the initiation of this common framework it is interesting to assess the current socio-economic status of Europe’s largest ethnic minority. Has the situation of Roma communities ameliorated significantly throughout these years? To what extent the policies and strategies adopted by Member States yielded the desired outcome? And lastly, how close do EU Member States find themselves in relation to the key objectives of the common framework? A recent study published by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency sheds light on the above-mentioned questions and allows this article to deliver certain conclusions in regards to future challenges and pressing priorities for the Roma communities.
Understandably, the right to education is pivotal to the proper development of children not only because of its function to facilitate social integration but equally due to the fact that education is essential in order to pursue professional and employment fulfilment outside of a community’s ties. Guaranteed under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as in Article 14 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Member States are obliged to ensure participation of Roma children at least until the degree of compulsory education. In that sense, the common framework agreed between the Member States attributed weighted emphasis in the participation of Roma children in early childhood programmes that would facilitate the introduction of children in compulsory education at a later point. However, although Member States endorsed a benchmark of 95% in regards to children participating in early childhood programmes, half of the children between the age of 4 and the age that compulsory education commences were not participating in such programmes. Notable exceptions to this rule were the cases of Spain (95%) and Hungary (91%).
In regards to participation in compulsory education, results seem more consistent with the objectives of the common framework. Almost full participation was registered in most countries with the exception of Greece and Romania ( 77% and 69% respectively). However, even in these countries participation was steadily growing in relation to previous years. A potential limitation of these findings is related to the fact that a discontinuity exists among children participating in compulsory education and their actual age. This incoherence could be explained by repeated classes for many children or the commence of children education at a later point. Lastly, apart from ensuring participation of children until the level of compulsory education as provisioned by Member States legal obligations, Member States intended to promote at least complete fulfilment of secondary education. In reference to the common framework the objective initially was to reduce the number of early school leavers to 10%. However, a look at the data demonstrates that such an objective is unattainable since the best performance in regards to pursuing education above the compulsory threshold is roughly 1 children out of 5.
Results in regards to the right to health could be considered as successful in most Member States since the significant majority enjoys health insurance under public or private arrangments. Notable exceptions were the cases of Romania and Bulgaria which range between 45 and 55 percent respectively and thus lower the total sum of Roma population aged 16 or over under health insurance schemes to three out of four.
Access to housing has been assessed in reference to the availability of space, access to public utilities and housing quality. In regards to the first, a discrepancy is observed among availability of space in households of the general population and households of Roma population. Therefore, availability of space is a current issue in regards to access to housing for Roma people. However, the situation has been significantly ameliorated in relations to previous years rendering the prospect of proper housing for Roma people feasible in the upcoming years. The situation could be deemed positive in regards to the availability of electricity in Roma households as well. The significant majority of Roma households possess electricity (percentages range from 86 to 99 respectively). Although a discrepancy among households of Roma and households of the general population exists (almost 100% of households of the general population possesses electricity) the results are significant especially in relation to the performance of states in this regard from past reports. However, other indicators of proper housing such as access to tap water or the existence of bathrooms and toilets inside the house are worryingly low, especially in relation to the situation of the general population. Still, Member States that face the gravest problems in regards to the existence of such necessities in Roma households demonstrate improvement during the last years, it is, however, evident that more must be done in this direction. Lastly, significant discrepancies in regards to housing quality among Roma households and households of the general population are related to the low availability of light, pollution and environmental problems, and conditions of crime and violence.
Finally, Roma people aged 16 and older describing themselves as employed or self-employed reached an analogy of one out of four. This analogy is disappointing in regards to the status of the general population which reaches a percentage of 64. Worryingly, a comparison between earlier surveys shows that no significant improvements in regards to the employment status of Roma minorities have been attained. Moreover, a gender gap has been identified among Roma men and Roma women since 34% of men declared being employed contrary to 16% of women. Ironically, an alignment between the situation of Roma and the situation of the general population in regards to this indicator may be identified since gender related discrepancies in regards to participation in the labour market exist among the general population of Member States as well ( 71% of men in comparison with 57% of women). Still, the situation of Roma women in regards to this indicator is worse than the one observed in the general population and this fact has to do mainly with the occupation of Roma women in household activities. The ratio of Roma women assuming household activities as their main occupation in comparison to women of the general population is significantly higher for the former group which could be the effect of strongly established gender roles and traditions in Roma communities.
In short, it seems that the situation of Roma communities in the EU is endangered by a multitude of factors ranging from access to upper education curriculums to employment opportunities and provision of basic social services and necessities. The results covered in this study demonstrate an alarming reality for most Roma communities. The situation is disheartening when taking into account that Roma is the largest in terms of overall population ethnic minority residing in the EU. Although the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020 has been in force since 2011 many of its objectives have remained unfulfilled, others inadequately realised, while some had to be completely jettisoned and substituted by more realistic ones. In effect, greater coherence and cooperation among EU states at a collective level is essential in order to ensure adherence of Member States to their human rights commitments and ameliorate substantially the enjoyment of fundamental rights for their fellow citizens.