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Despite many EU funding schemes, efforts so far have failed in making a significant impact on the life of Roma, an EESC hearing reveals
The impact of EU funds for inclusion of the Roma is often thwarted because there is not enough political backing for projects, the beneficiaries lack skills and capacities to implement them or the needs of Roma communities are not always properly addressed, a panel organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has recently concluded.
The EESC hearing "Pitfalls and opportunities: Implementation of EU financed projects for Roma inclusion" assembled representatives of Roma organisations, NGOs and the European Commission (EC), who took part in two workshops to come up with conclusions and recommendations for the better application of the existing schemes.
They said the "gaps in the field" were many, accounting for a slow pace of efforts to improve living conditions of Roma people and their inclusion into society, despite a number of available EU funding programmes such as ESIF or its ESF and ERDF funds.
Because of the required capacities and skills to obtain EU-funding, Roma NGOs are often ill-equipped to apply for funds or to implement them.
"Plenty of Roma NGOs cannot get funding because of the lack of knowledge about how to write proposals," said Michal Miko of the Czech NGO Slovo21, arguing in favour of setting up small scheme projects aimed at developing soft skills and other capacities of grassroots Roma NGOs.
Capacity building is key for both beneficiaries and authorities at both national and local levels, advised the EC representative Dominique Be. "Otherwise we will continue to pour money into the hands of people who don't know what to do with it and how to do it," he said.
But for things to move, more action is needed at the national level.
"The tools are there but we see limited impact on the life of Roma," Belén Sánchez-Rubio of EURoma Network said. "We need national strategies that must reflect the real needs of the Roma in every Member State... It is all right to have small-scale projects but we need to scale this up, to make it a public policy and not only NGO driven," she said, adding that the NGOs should push for reforms in mainstream policies that would affect Roma, such as education or housing.
However, there are few national level programmes for Roma inclusion that can be shown as good examples, unlike local or EU-wide programmes, of which there are many.
The reason for this is the lack of political will for projects related to Roma integration, often due to the persisting discrimination of their communities in many countries.
"Well-designed projects very often failed due to a lack of political support," said Deyan Kolev, Chairman of Amalipe Centre for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance, adding that, for example in Bulgaria, some projects have been stopped due to unfavourable public environment for their implementation.
"When there is public resistance, politicians prefer not to go ahead with the project," he said.
But national and local decision-makers should be made aware that support of Roma is not a matter of their good will but an obligation.
"We need to make positive steps to make local and national politicians understand that it is their responsibility to change the existing game... that this is not solely in the hands of NGOs working in the field," said Gabor Daróczi, the Roma expert of the EESC's Permanent Study Group on the Inclusion of Roma.
Another issue is to raise awareness about Roma rights, both in Roma communities and in society at large. This requires advocating rights at local levels, for example, through promotion campaigns to get society closer to Roma people.
It was agreed that more Roma people should take part in the implementation of projects, but they should also be made aware that they must take part in the overall decision-making process and thus influence the public policies which directly affect them.
But changes will not happen overnight and it was therefore all the more important that projects continue after the EU funding period, intended to kick-start them, expires.
Mr Daróczi pointed out that most people in the EU have no idea of the dire conditions in which the Roma population lives.
"The built road stops right there where the Roma settlement begins… the built pavement does not exist there. And the street lighting has never existed," he said.