Guestblog by Cor de Vos, former mayor of Nieuwegein, representative of the Netherlands in CAHROM, the Comittee of the Council of Europe for ROMA issues.

The living conditions of a big part of Roma people, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, can be one of the next problems for Europe. About half of the 10 to 12 million Roma (the largest minority in Europe) live in a miserable situation which is in today’s Europe not acceptable. Some living situations of Roma are worse than in developing countries. It is the responsibility of the national governments of these countries to improve the situation of all their citizens, and so also of the people with a Roma background. Unfortunately we have to note that some governments don't do anything at all in this matter. The pressure on governments of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and other countries in the Balkan needs to be strengthened by the European institutions and other national governments. If we don’t do that the tension within the Roma population will grow and I do not exclude that in some cities and regions there will be uprisings if there is a populist leader who has the drive, strength and influence at the grassroots in the villages and in the ghettos in the big cities.

The situation of the Roma is high on the political agenda of organizations like the Council of Europe and the European Union. However, this issue is not provided the same level of urgency in the policies of the national governments of either Central and Eastern Europe, or Western Europe. In some countries like Hungary the Roma are even victim of the policy of the national government and in France Roma are forcibly evicted from their settlements without the provision of alternative housing and denied other basic provisions, although they are citizens of a member country of the European Union.

On the European level the overall situation of Roma in Europe is on the agenda. It is focused on the discrimination of Roma and on the need for social inclusion for Roma in general. It is not focused on the solution of the real problems Roma people are facing in their daily lives. The real problems are the bad housing conditions, the poverty of many Roma, the bad health, bad education and poor school attendance, child marriages, human trafficking and participation in criminality  (see f.i. the FRA 2011 Roma data survey). It is my conviction that the solution of  these problems cannot be found in only asking attention for discrimination on a general level. The policy towards Roma has to be changed, on European and on national level as well. That change has also to take place within the Roma population itself. A large number see themselves too much as victims and too little as people desiring to improve their own situation by themselves. They wait for measures of the authorities and criticize them for doing too little.

In the Netherlands an approach is developed directed at complex families with a Roma background. Complex families are families with a multitude of problems as I mentioned above, like poverty, poor school attendance of children, poor health conditions, problems with debts, neighbourhood nuisance, participation in petty crime, etc. The approach is not directed at Roma as a group, but is focused on the solution of the problems the families individually are facing. It is an integrated approach. That means that all institutions involved in these families are participating in what can be called a chain cooperation. The municipality is in the lead in order to manage the approach. School attendance of the children is the most important part of the approach. It is the “conditio sine qua non” for the participation by the families in the approach. Education of children is very important for their future as participant in the society. The approach is based on the principle of “one family, one plan, one manager”. Together with the family, a plan is developed by the manager, of course in consultation with all the other institutions involved, like the municipality as leading partner, youth care, the council of youth protection, the police, the prosecutor, the housing corporation, the schools, welfare organizations, etc. The efforts  of all these institutions are coordinated by the manager into an integrated approach of the family involved. The philosophy behind this approach is, that the families are offered opportunities for participation in the society, but at the same time it also offers a way to enforce the laws and rules. The motive behind this approach is that it is crucial to solve the concrete problems  of the families, to help them, but also to help solving the problems they sometimes cause to others. Because of the complexity and the quantity of the problems of these Roma families they can only be tackled by an individual  tailor made approach. This individual approach will help reaching general policy goals towards improving the socio-economic position of Roma.

There are at least two important conditions for success:

  1. An active attitude of the families with a Roma background in order to improve their situation. That means that the families have to become aware of their own situation and that they want to do something about it.
  2. The political willingness of the local and national authorities to contribute to the improvement of the situation of all their citizens, including Roma people and the strength of authorities to involve and coordinate all institutions in a chain cooperation.

This approach is developed in the Netherlands. The circumstances in the European countries totally differ. There is for instance a big difference in the number of Roma people (in the Netherlands 20.000 to 40.000, in Romania about 1 million people), but also in the economic circumstances.  It is clear to me, that the efforts of the national and local governments to improve the living conditions of Roma should be focused on the families at the grassroots, in the ghettos and villages. A central role has to be played by the municipality. A big number of municipalities in Central and Eastern Europe don’t have the skills, the  capacity and the finances to play this role. The European institutions should direct their efforts towards the support of the local authorities. A very big effort of all authorities on European, national and local level is needed and should be directed at lifting the miserable conditions of the Roma people at the grassroots, first of all in Central and Eastern Europe, in order to prevent an even worse scenario of riot and violence.

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