Phiren Amenca

Discussion on the future of EU Roma youth policies

March 18. 2019. Budapest, Central European University

RGDTS-Phiren Amenca organized together with colleagues, fellows and students from the Central European University a discussion to share information on the existent EU Roma Framework, National Roma Integration Strategies, and the monitoring of their implementation through the Roma Civil Monitor, to reflect on the youth approaches and policies as part of these instruments and to provide the European Commission with written feedback on what should be considered when addressing the situation of Roma youth.

The discussion was organized after the Workshop on the future policies for Roma to provide feedback to the discussion papers for sessions three and four. Paper can be found here.

The following comments were sent to DG Justice, European Commission:

Written comments to the background paper on Diversity and Participation presented during the Workshop on future policies for Roma on 1st October 2019

– The future of EU Roma youth policies –

Context: The present paper relies on the views and knowledge of a group of about 20 young Roma who are currently based in Budapest and who are from Central and Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans countries.
Following the workshop organized in Brussels, a discussion on Roma youth policies was organized at CEU with the scope to provide feedback and input to the European Commission (EC). The matters discussed were related to the existent measures for Roma youth as part of the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020; to how a post-2020 EU Roma policy initiative can represent the diversity of Roma youth; and, to how a post-2020 EU Roma policy initiative can ensure the participation of Roma youth in those policy processes directly affecting their lives. It was also reflected on the understanding of diversity, on the dimensions that define Roma youth as a diverse group, and it was also discussed the needs, issues and/or priorities of Roma youth. A strong interest was shown into better understanding the role of the EC when addressing the needs of Roma youth, both at national and european levels, and also on what actions should be taken and by whom in order to ensure Roma youth participation at different policy-making levels.

The first part of this document provides comments and suggestions related to the Diversity section of the expert paper. The second part focuses on providing several arguments on why a post-2020 EU Roma policy should focus on Roma youth, whereas the third part provides comments on the Participation section of the expert paper.

Defining Roma youth and understanding its diversity

Although the expert paper focused on Diversity rightly points out the issues of intersectionality, mobility and social stratification when defining Roma, additional particularities should be considered when developing targeted policies for Roma youth. Possible such elements were raised during the group discussion and are included below:

  • Roma is commonly used and recognized as an umbrella term representing a variety of linguistic and cultural characteristics which come together to reflect the diversity of multiple groups: i.e., Roma, Sinti, Travellers, Kalé, Gens du voyage – as the main groups in Europe; and/or, Beas, Blacksmiths, etc. as country-specific groups. The similarities and differences of a particular group should be considered when defining and targeting the respective group in a specific country.
  • Roma are generally categorized as poor people, which results into a misconstrued generalization that all Roma are poor. Such deductions might derive from the low socio-economic status in which most Roma live in for years (mainly due to exclusion) and as such a classification does not reflect the general status of the entire Roma population, the policy measures targeting Roma should take into consideration the different socio-economic status of Roma.
    • Policy documents talk about Roma girls and children, but not specifically about Roma youth. It is thus important to reflect on why this is the case: is it because of the perception that Roma youth are part of the mainstream youth policies, or is it that this is not a priority for the EU and national governments, or perhaps that young Roma are integrated and no further targeted actions are needed? Neither Roma civil society nor mainstream youth policies or specific structures focusing on youth include, involve or represent Roma youth issues and the voice of Roma young people. It is thus an immediate need for a double mainstreaming approach in which both Roma and youth policies target and involve Roma youth.
    • As in other policy documents, Roma youth is diverse from the perspective of age distribution – different age groups within Roma youth have different needs depending on their age segments: Roma adolescents (18-24) might be targeted in policies dealing with institutional participation, or risk prevention and harm reduction measures, whereas post-adolescence Roma in labour market integration and stabilisation policies. In general, Roma youth organizations such as Phiren Amenca are quite flexible with the age group limits, and therefore define youth as those with age between 16/18 and 30/35.
    • While it is generally recognized that young Roma women and girls face different expectations and challenges than men and boys (i.e., fewer years of schooling, limited mobility, household work and elderly/child care), young men and boys face challenges that should also be looked into, such as pressured into marriage or establish their family.
    • In some communities, many Roma do not ‘have the right’ or the chance/opportunity “to be young”, with parents and relatives pressuring their children to give up their youth and establish a family at a young age.
    • LGBTQIA Roma youth faces higher risks of multiple discrimination; therefore, their specific needs should be addressed.
    • In some Roma communities, the status of a young person is defined based on its marital status. Specifically, if a person of 18-35 years old is married and has children, he/she is not considered young anymore within and by the respective community.
    • In some other Roma communities, the status of young household determines if one is considered young or not – if they are married and live with one of the couples’ relatives, they are considered young in the community, otherwise, if they live by themselves, they are no longer considered young.

Why focus on Roma youth?

Multiple disadvantages

  • Roma youth do not access and benefit the same rights as any other EU youth citizens (see EU-MIDIS II, FRA 2018) because of their limited access to goods and services (i.e., the mobility of Roma youth in the EU countries) mainly due to the institutional racism they encounter, and their age (i.e., it is the perception of others that youth are being passive beneficiaries and not active agents to decide upon the policies affecting them). Antigypsyism has a long term impact in diminishing Roma youth confidence, and setting higher aspirations for themselves, but also their self-exclusion from society in general. Roma youth are generally 1-2 years behind in terms of aspirations, interest, potential and social development compared to their non-Roma peers of the same age (i.e., the word gap, the achievement gap).
  • In terms of research the concrete situation of Roma youth should be assessed in different countries and contexts (i.e., women, segregated areas, possible barriers on Roma youth political participation, etc.)
  • In Europe, there are many cases of stateless Roma youth. In the vast majority of cases, this is due to the fact that they were born from parents with stateless status. This status affect their access to basic public services like health, education, social services etc. The national authorities should find solutions for solving/eradicating the statelessness, especially in the case when the child is born in that respective country.
  • A similar issue relates to the young Roma who were born, grew up or lived outside of their country of citizenship but in the European Union. It is imperative that both the host countries and the country of origins put efforts in accommodating, respectively reintegrating (i.e., in social life, in the education system) the affected Roma youth.

Romani people – a young population

  • The Roma population is demographically different from the majority European populations insofar as it is noticeably younger – and consistently so across Europe.
  • As a result of the overall poor Roma health status, overall life expectancy years for the Roma community are estimated to be between 5 and 20 years lower (European Commission 2014). Using the average for the EU-28, the European Roma population has an average age of 25.1 years in comparison with 40.2 years for the non-Roma population.
  • Population projections suggest that by 2030 the number of children under 6 will fall by 7.6%. In absolute terms, this means 2.5 million fewer children in the European Union in 2030 than in 2012. Contrary to these trends the Romani population projections show that the rate of Roma population is increasing(1) and therefore the need to address the needs and challenges of Roma youth becomes imperative considering the potential Roma youth can bring to their countries and to Europe.

(1) In Slovakia by 2020, the share of Roma children in the child component of the Slovak population will increase from the present level of 14% to about 17% by 2025. By 2050, the population of ethnic Bulgarians is expected to shrink to 800,000, while the number of Bulgarian Roma is expected to crest 3.5 million. A 2010 projection indicated that 20% of Hungary’s population and 40% of its workforce will consist of Roma by the same year.

There was no focus on Roma youth as a specific group in the 2020 EU Framework and in the National Roma Integration Strategies

  • Youth as a target group has not been addressed in the EU Roma Framework and NRIS as Roma youth think they should have been; even in the consultation processes at the EU and national level youth needs are not presented adequately. So far, the EU policy documents have been referring to Roma children, and on education and the primary concern, however little if nothing has been put forward on Roma youth specifically. The framework (COM (2011) 173) mentions 4 times the word young whereas children 25 times. A brief look at the national level reveals that out of 22 NRIS(2) just a quarter of them use the term youth or young in a frequent way, with Finland, Sweden, Croatia, Hungary, Germany, Italy, and to a certain extent Romania, mentioning youth and young between 22 to 120 times in their national strategies – and most of the times in relation to education. The laggards in this respect are countries like Slovakia or Bulgaria – with a rather high percentage of Roma – which use the term youth or young less than 10 times in their national strategies. In a post 2020 EU Roma framework, there is a need to ensure that Roma youth – in its diversity – is a target of both EU and national level policies.

(2) Hungary, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Finland, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Portugal, France, UK, Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Lithuania, Estonia, Denmark, Greece, Slovakia

Roma youth are excluded from mainstream European and national youth structures

  • Roma youth are excluded from the EU level initiatives youth initiatives (i.e. substantial research has shown that Roma youngsters do not benefit from the Youth Guarantee), EU level youth structures (i.e. Structured dialogue) and networks and representation structures (i.e., Council of Europe Advisory Council on Youth).
  • Roma youth are also excluded from transnational and national youth structures (i.e., in Romanian Youth Council).
  • Roma youth are also under-represented and not taken seriously by Roma representation related structures and civil society organizations. The reluctance, ignorance of/and the limited Roma politics in general, have failed to address the voice, presence, needs and concerns of Roma youth.

Roma youth – an added value to the Romani empowerment

  • On the one hand, the emerging process of self-mobilization of the Roma youth is innovative in the sense that it builds on elements of ethnic pride and belonging, and on the other hand it brings elements of coalition building with other disempowered youth groups (ethnic, religious, gender identity, LGBTQIA, etc.). Roma youth should be included in Roma structures and civil society organizations not only as beneficiaries but also as full members with decision-making power so that they can ensure the continuation of the work Roma civil societies have done so far, strengthening therefore the voice of Roma.
  • The existing (and slowly emerging) Roma youth movements and structures emphasize the different approaches and ideological stances they represent: for example, there is a more liberal, radical generation of Romani women activists, and more conservative youth structures built around Roma political parties (e.g. The Romanian Party of the Roma), or even religious based (informal) groups.

Participation of Roma youth

The expert paper rightly points out the different aspects of Roma participation. For Roma youth participation can be divided into several dimensions: participation as beneficiaries and targets of policies, programs, projects and measures; participation as civil society representatives; participation as youth representatives at the national and European levels and within governing structures addressing both Roma and youth (including governmental and non-governmental); civic and political participation of Roma youth.

Participation as beneficiaries and targets of policies, programs, projects and measures

  • Roma youth should be included as a target group within the EU-wide youth initiatives such as The EU Youth Dialogue, Erasmus +, the European Solidarity Corps, the Youth Guarantee, the European Voluntary Service, etc.
  • Most of the time the term ‘participation’ is referring to Roma youngsters (mainly children) in the context of beneficiaries of different policies, programs, projects and measures (i.e., education programs). Indeed, from an equal citizenship perspective, the EC and Member States need to ensure that Roma youngsters have the same level of access to goods and services as any other youth citizens from their countries.
  • Considering the diversity of Roma youth (see part 1 above), there is a need to ensure that the different policies, programs, projects and measures correspond to the needs that different Roma youth groups have.

Participation as civil society representatives

  • It is widely known that with a few exceptions the Roma civil society sector has remained rather weak (in terms of capacity, resources, advocacy power, legitimacy, and independence). For example, in some countries, the obedience and respect towards the well-established Roma civil society organizations creates an obstacle for Roma youth to participate on equal terms. In order for Roma youth to participate on an independent basis, it is necessary to be supported individually, and in the same time to be supported in establishing new youth structures in which they gain ownership and decision-making power.

Participation as representation in European and national level youth and Roma structures

  • Considering the direct involvement within the political mainstream parties, organizations, EU and national level institutions, city councils have on youth employment and personal development in general, a better preparation of Roma youth candidates in such positions should be paramount.
  • Well-established Roma youth organizations at the national level – like Association of Young Roma in Slovakia – and at the European level – like ternYpe, Phiren Amenca which are convincingly legitimized and recognized by European and national institutions, are fundamental to enhancing participation in Roma equality related policy making at the European and national levels.
  • The European Commission and other EU institutions should be more open, democratic, inclusive and transparent with regards to the Roma youth individuals and Roma youth civil society organizations invited to contribute to the different stages of the policy making process targeting Roma youth.
  • In the EU context, especially the EC, it is necessary to maintain a balance between the local expertize of the NGOs, the Roma youth individuals’ expertise in certain domains (i.e., employment), and transnational Roma youth networks, when it comes to the selectivity of whom participates in the Roma youth related consultation processes.
  • Until recently, the Roma policy scene has been mainly dominated by large international civil society organizations, Roma and pro-Roma alike which have not addressed Roma youth issues. It is time for Roma youth to have the opportunity to be part of an open youth development model where youth can questions, challenge, propose and decide on the policies affecting them. There is a need to create opportunities for Roma youth to take a proactive role in taking policy decision concerning their needs.

Civic and political participation of Roma youth

  • Including a more diverse population, as well as Roma youth at different levels of political life, would strengthen the existing democratic institutions and would help in building more accountable and representative governments.
  • There is a need to address the existing structural barriers at the national and EU level when it comes to Roma youth political participation such as the representation system, vote fraud, acts that inhibit participation in electoral processes, the distrust Roma youth have towards the institutions serving non-Roma interests, etc.
  • Roma youth in general have to deal with a relatively low support from the existing mainstream or ethnic based political parties in becoming candidates. Member states should ensure they support financially or through other means the political parties putting forward youth as candidates.
  • Most of the Roma youth, especially those from rural or segregated areas, face issues with making free and informed choices with regards to whom to vote for and are subject to vote buying and vote manipulation, direct pressure or threats. There is need to invest in youth projects targeting basic citizenship rights, civic activism and civic education.
  • There is a need for capacity building, electoral education and political training among Roma youth. Political academies, workshops and practical trainings are imperative for building political skills (e.g. public speaking, leadership effectiveness, managing collaborations). Electoral education should outreach disadvantaged communities but also the youngsters interested in pursuing a political career.

The undersigned agreed to endorse this paper:
Marietta Herfort – Hungary Mária Nyerges – Hungary
Marina Csikós- Hungary Michal Mižigár – The Czech Republic
Anna Daroczi- Hungary Sunita Memetovic – Sweden
Marius Taba – Romania Semran Sulejman – Republic of North Macedonia
Georgeta Munteanu – Romania Atanas Stoyanov – Bulgaria
Simona Torotcoi – Romania Bogdan Burdușel – Romania
Georgeta Pintilie- The Netherlands Miroslav Mitráš – Slovakia
Tomas Scuka – Czech Republic Albert Memeti – Macedonia
Georgiana Lincan – Romania Rufat Demirov – Republic of North Macedonia