Integrated Roma inclusion policies and an efficient use of EU funds are the key conditions for the success of the Decade of Roma Inclusion initiative, representatives of the nine participating countries and international officials agreed in Sofia on Tuesday (June 12th).The ten-year project, aimed at ending centuries of isolation and discrimination against Roma in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia, was launched at a meeting in Sofia in February 2005. Sponsored by the World Bank and the Open Society Institute (OSI), the initiative focuses on four priority areas — education, employment, health, and housing.
Efforts to improve the situation of Roma in the participating countries over the past two years have produced mixed results, according to a watch report released on the eve of the 10th meeting of this International Steering Committee.
According to DecadeWatch, the first assessment of government action on implementing the commitments expressed under the joint initiative, there was “significant progress across all countries, though more in some than in others, and, within countries, more in some areas of action that in others”.
All the participating countries have adopted Decade Action Plans, have set up the relevant institutions and co-ordination offices, and — although to various degrees — have initiated activities to improve the situation of the Roma, the report found.
The document, drawn up by a coalition of Roma NGOs and activists, also noted some progress towards the achievement of another goal of the initiative, namely giving Roma a voice in the countries’ efforts at promoting inclusion.
However, “the Decade has not reached the critical point that would guarantee success”, the experts said, urging governments to move from the implementation of specific projects and sporadic measures towards the adoption of comprehensive programmes or integrated policies.
Due to lack of consistent and systematic outcome indicators and data, the report only assesses government action and does not provide an insight on the actual impacts for the Roma.
Still, it measures the performance of each participating country on a scale of 0 (lowest score) to 4 (highest score), the main criterion being the individual governments’ ownership and effort to move from sporadic measures to systematic policies backed up by budgetary resources.
Among the nine nations, Hungary is the best performer with a score of 2.29, followed by Bulgaria with 1.84 and Slovakia with 1.82. Montenegro ranked lowest with a score of 0.63.
The participants in the Sofia meeting agreed that the EU should get more involved in the efforts to improve the quality of life for Roma. They also agreed on the need for a more efficient use of the bloc’s structural funds.
“The EU must develop a European-wide Roma policy,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev, whose country is wrapping up its one-year term as president of the Roma Decade, said on Tuesday.
His words were echoed by billionaire philanthropist and OSI chairman George Soros, who said the EU could not “overlook the fate of eight million Roma”. At the same time, he said, it is critical for governments to step up their co-operation with Roma civil society so that the social inclusion agenda could move forward.
Among the other officials participating in the Sofia meeting were World Bank Vice President Shigeo Katsu and EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Danuta Huebner.