Thank you very much for the Committee of Experts on Roma and Travellers for inviting me to share my thoughts about enhancing political participation among Roma. Our communities in Europe and especially in new Member States are underrepresented in all fields of public life and civil as well as political participation is astoundingly low. Let me mention just one figure to exemplify: by right of mathematical ratio, there should be about 20 MEPs of Roma origin in the European Parliament.In the 2009-2013 legislative term however, I myself represent the 10-12 million European Roma, whereas Luxemburg with a population of less than half a million delegates six deputies. This means, that Roma are 150 times (!) weaker represented in the EP than the population of Luxemburg and in some national governments this proportion is even worse!
I believe that a powerful civil movement and the effective self-organization of Roma communities hold the key to enhancing participation in both political and spiritual terms.
Empowerment of Roma NGOs
The vast majority of non-governmental organizations dealing with the social inclusion of Roma however, lack proper resources in terms of both quality and quantity. For most such civil organizations for example, it is almost impossible to acquire EU funding due to the lack of professional staff and the lack of experience in supervising complex projects. In support of the efficient representation of Roma interests – particularly in view of decisions affecting Roma communities directly – strengthening Roma civil society is indispensable. The real empowerment of NGOs must be carried out simultaneously in terms of financial, academic and human resources in order to enable Roma civil society to fulfil its part in gearing up the social inclusion of Roma.
The independence of Roma NGOs is very important. The vast majority of civil society is either paid directly by their homeland governments or they live on EU allocated sums distributed by national authorities. In both cases, they find themselves in an inferior position which blunts their criticism towards the authorities and weakens their role as “watchdogs”.
Measuring up local demands
Local implementation is the crucial factor of all policy initiatives and the three most important elements – planning, management and monitoring – must also be carried out by local NGOs. It is the very essence of civil organizations to measure up the needs of local communities and to succeed in smaller scale, local objectives. It would be beneficial to do extensive surveys on the demands of local target groups; something similar to what has been so successful in
Increasing voter turnout
Roma NGOs have a great deal to achieve in enhancing attendance among Roma in national and local elections. Voter turnout among Roma is astoundingly low, due to several factors, such as unsatisfactory access to public information, geographic segregation, and widespread mistrust in politics. Beside national authorities, it is the responsibility of civil organizations to educate excluded communities about voting procedures and the accountability of elected representatives. It is also vital, to signal and combat illegal or undemocratic practices, such as political parties offering material incentives (“vote buying”) or community leaders pressurizing people to cast their ballots for a certain candidate.
Roma involvement in Roma projects
Participation of Roma in projects and decision making procedures affecting their own communities still lags far behind the extent of representation of any other interest group. Roma must set the discourse about themselves, to reveal the roots of the problems and discover what action and measures they need.
Participation in mainstream policymaking
It is necessary to distinguish between Roma and non-Roma issues. While combating discrimination and matters of cultural policy are clearly and explicitly ethno-specific issues, the educational, health care, housing, employment and overall economic aspects of Roma integration must be mainstreamed into generals policies of these fields. It is the overall purpose of integration to be an equal part of society and Roma intellectuals should not be therefore confined in working on anti-discrimination and equal opportunities issues but to apply their expertise on all fields.
The role of Roma intellectuals
In the social inclusion of Roma, eminent role falls on educated members of Roma communities who do not only fulfil their obligations in their fields of profession, but are also actively involved in community building. NGOs must assemble educated Roma and create the opportunity of helping and enriching their communities according to their expertise and knowledge. Roma intellectuals have to serve as role models, educate and inform upcoming generations and also take leadership in public life.
Facilitating Roma diplomacy
It is also important to connect Roma university students and young Roma professionals on national and European level, pave their way to the highest level and quality of education and thus galvanize advocating Roma interests in all relevant spheres of public life, from the grassroots level up to international advocacy.
A basic prerequisite for the empowerment of civil society and enhancing Roma participation in public life is putting forward authentic and highly educated Roma leaders, who work for the overall benefit of their communities and put community building and social mission in the forefront, behind their personal interests.
Thank you for your attention and I wish you a fruitful conference!