How to include Roma youth in policy making and mainstream structures of power? This and other similar questions were discussed on 10 December 2020 during the Roma Youth Voices online event “The role and power of Roma Youth in mainstream structures”. The event was organized by the Phiren Amenca International and the ternYpe Roma Youth Networks and it was moderated by Boglárka Fedorkó – a Roma activist from Budapest, Hungary.
The live discussion began after the Best Roma Youth Project 2020 Awarding announced by the European Commissioner on Equality Helena Dalli. More than 20 representatives of Roma civil society from all over Europe were present online at the meeting, while participants in the discussion were representatives of the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the European Youth Forum.
Anna Daróczi from Phiren Amenca International Network kicked off the discussion by making a point on the importance of Roma Youth participation: “Young Roma need to be involved in creating mainstream European and national youth policies and programs, because they are part of the youth of Europe. And they have to be at the table when decisions about Roma are made at all levels, not only as beneficiaries, but also as full members with decision-making power, because they are the future of Roma communities. This involvement does not come naturally as our survey on Roma youth challenges and perspectives from 2020 shows it”.
Anna Daróczi stated that the Roma youth participation is blocked at the very beginning due to the lack of information about opportunities. 70 % of the young Roma respondents from the survey, mentioned above, that there are no Roma youth civil society organizations to turn to when needed. “Many young Roma have not even heard about programs which are in place for their benefit, such as the Youth Guarantee, the EU Youth Dialogue, or the European Solidarity Corps. The calls do not reach them, they are hard to find, the opportunities are not „advertised”, and their policy language is inaccessible for many of them. International and intergovernmental actors should do a better job at reaching out to young Roma, because at this point, the lowest level of participation, which is access to information, is not being fulfilled. The information and the structures have to become more accessible, and young Roma should be enabled to make use of them” – Anna stated. She concluded that at this point Roma youth are rarely represented within the European Commission structures, in intergovernmental bodies, National Youth Councils and student/youth parliaments but also within Roma-policy making structures such as the National Roma Platforms and Roma Civil Society Monitors.
Lavinia Banu from the Roma Team of the European Commission began her intervention by saying that the 2018 Monitor of the implementation of the National Roma integration strategies revealed that for Roma youth there was very little progress in access to the labour market, little progress when it comes to education, but still large percentage of school segregation and that the issue of Roma youth representation within decision-making processes and structures has not been yet properly tackled. 69 % of the respondents of an online consultation of the European Commission highlighted that there is not enough done in the area of Roma youth participation and removing the structural barriers hindering it. The Commissions Anti-Racism Action Plan up to 2025 is a very important tool that is relevant to Roma inclusion within structures, Lavinia Banu said. Moreover, the European Commission intends to increase the diversity of its own staff as part of the modernization of its forthcoming human resources strategy. A Diversity and Inclusion Office will be created within the DG Human Resources and Security, and for the first time ever there will be conducted a survey (voluntarily and anonymous) among the European Commission staff including questions on race and ethnicity.
Related to this, together with Member States, the European Commission is working on the development of a new Equality and Monitoring Tool which might expose barriers for applicants who wish to work at the Commission. Lavinia Banu mentioned that the Commission is also making steps to increase the diversity within its Blue Book Internship Programme and this might lead to more Roma youth taking advantage of it.
Florencia van Houdt – Head of the Youth, Volunteer Solidarity and Traineeships Office at DG Education, European Commission, stated that indeed everything starts with information. For this purpose, the Commission has developed the European Youth Portal which aims to be the single access point for opportunities for young people. There young people can find information about EU youth programmes such as the European Solidarity Corps, Discover EU and more relevant information. When it comes to the EU Youth strategy, Florencia van Houdt stated that it is built around ‘Engage, Connect and Empower’ and that it is for everyone, and yet there should be a thought for those who cannot access it. “The involvement of Roma Youth within the European Youth Forum is a big step for the mobilization and involvement of Roma Youth in the EU Youth Dialogue, yet we need to see how do we include organizations so that we make this dialogue more inclusive using different consultation channels and also be part of the national working groups” the representative of DG EAC said. Florencia van Houdt announced that the EU has set aside more than 24 billion euros for the Erasmus Plus and a billion for the ESC up to 2027 and this will become a reality by the end of 2020 when the negotiations on the new EU budget are concluded. This is a nearly doubling of the Erasmus program funds making it a significant source of opportunities for young people to learn, travel, engage in multicultural informal learning and also for civil society cooperation. ‘Inclusion, digital and green’ are the three words describing best the priorities of the new Erasmus. Florencia van Houdt mentioned that EC invests in knowledge and expertise – the Salto Inclusion and Diversity team advises national agencies on how to reach out to different target groups, how to support activities, what are the criteria for assessment of activities, what kind of different costs different groups are facing that should be reimbursed. “I am sure the colleagues from Salto will be interested to listen to you and your reports and to take them in their day-to-day work” added van Houdt.
Georgina Laboda – Rapporteur on Roma issues at the Advisory Council on Youth and at
the Joint Council on Youth at the Council of Europe added to the conversation that after the end of the Roma Youth Action Plan in 2019, this year the Council of Europe established a Task Force Meeting on Roma Youth participation with the involvement of Roma NGOs and Roma experts. “We are at the level of preparing a Ministerial Recommendation on Roma Youth. We have a big hope for this policy, especially because it was prepared with the involvement of young Roma and Roma Youth organizations” Georgina said. She continued by
saying that youth organizations can apply for funding at the European Youth Foundation.
A welcome video address by Benjamin Gunther, a Board Member of the European Youth
Forum, was part of the discussion. Mr Gunther congratulated Phiren Amenca for becoming the 106th member of the European Youth Forum in November 2020. “We want to understand how youth organizations can appropriately respond to the increasingly diverse social context of young people, especially to Roma youth. We continuously reflect on how to improve the accessibility of our events and structures. We have recently started a study on Equal opportunities that is helping us to understand what the key challenges for different groups to accessing our events and our organization as such are”. The representative of the European Youth Forum added that in November 2020 the General Assembly adopted a Resolution on Combating Antigypsyism and Roma Youth Participation which makes the European Youth Forum an ally at the fight against antigypsyism.
At the second part of the discussion the guests of the “online studio” were asked to answer questions specifically addressed to them.
“What is it that we should know about the newly adopted EU Roma Framework 2030 and how to better involve young Roma in this process?” was the question addressed to the
representative of DG Justice.
The newly adopted EU Roma Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation up to 2030 comes in a package with other documents among which are the Portfolio for Monitoring Indicators developed by the NRCPs Working Group of the Fundamental Rights Agency, Guidance for planning and Implementation of National Roma Strategies and, certainly, Proposal for Council Recommendations, which are currently being seen at the Council of the EU and are to be adopted in the beginning of 2021. Members States are now in the process of developing their updated National Roma Strategies and the Commission puts an emphasis on the involvement of civil society in this process. “In this new initiative the European Commission targets Roma children and youth both horizontally and explicitly” said Lavinia Banu. For the first time there are quantitative headline targets that the Commission is engaging to achieve by 2030. With respect to young Roma by 2030 the Commission wants to achieve that less than 1 in 3 Roma youth are in NEETs. Moreover, there are foreseen initiatives both on European and national levels to boost Roma youth participation. 12 Member States have currently put in place National Roma Platforms and what the Commission has requested is that there should be chosen a representative of a civil society organization working on Roma Youth. In addition to that National Roma Platforms are expected to select representatives to attend the forthcoming European Roma Platform in Brussels and to share the achieved level of progress. Moreover, Lavinia Banu added that the Civil Roma Monitor will continue to take place and it will be launched in 2021 in the form of preparatory actions, meaning that it will have a wider scope of action: it is going to cover all EU Member States and it will engage again 90 Roma NGOs, reflecting better the Roma realities within national contexts. The Commission will place an emphasis that Roma Youth organizations are represented as well. Besides this the representative of DG Justice touched on the topics of digital inclusion and human trafficking, as points the Commission will closely follow in future.
“How can Roma youth be better involved in youth processes and structures related to the EU Youth Strategy?” was the question addressed at Florencia van Houdt from DG EAC.
“Although the EU Youth Strategy which was adopted in 2018 does not mention specifically
Roma youth, it is very much for them as inclusion is the line that it follows” said Florencia van Houdt. Phiren Amenca has made the necessary step and it can take part in the EU Youth Dialogue through the European Youth Forum. Yet it is important that young Roma are part of the national working groups and the National Youth Councils as the ‘Youth’ topic is predominantly within the Member States competencies and the European Commission and SALTO can only support with providing platforms for dialogue and methodological advice. ‘To really make a change it’s important to work at different levels in parallel’, Florencia van Houdt said. When it comes to the ESC, there has been conducted a Study on Obstacles for Cross-Border Volunteering and the Commission will work closely with Member States to make sure that inclusion is adequately addressed.
“What would you suggest to young Roma activist who wants to be more active at European level?” was the question directed at Georgina Laboda.
Georgina Laboda from the Advisory and Joint Councils on Youth at the Council of Europe stated that she can prepare reports on Roma Youth issues twice a year and this allow her to present these to the representatives of the member states of the Council of Europe and to seek for alliances. “Last summer all the 47 Member States adopted the Recommendation for inclusion of Roma and Travelers History in Textbooks” and with this we can start fighting racism from a very early stage. What I could advise other young people is that one always need a team of support first and second is that one need to start from local level, then national level and then international level – this is really important. We need to stay in contact and be available for each other. The work of young Roma activists is very much needed now in Europe!” – stated by Georgina.
Anna Daróczi from Phiren Amenca concluded from her side with a few points on inclusiveness: that it is now to see how European Youth Forum Membership can better include young Roma within National Youth Councils and International NGOs and that the reason for low representation of Roma NGOs within National Youth Councils is the lack of the ‘classical’ Roma youth NGOs that work entirely on Roma youth. ‘What we have are Roma NGOs which have a project on Roma youth or work with Roma youth but they are not considered as youth organizations. On the other side, bit much needs to be done from the side of the structures in power to actively seek Roma youth membership. Moreover, Anna Daróczi pointed out that there is no information about who the National Working Groups representatives are, so it is very difficult to approach them’.
The discussion ended with a short reflection of the speakers to additional questions. The entire discussion you can watch online: