On 10 June, ERIO in partnership with the European Economic and Social Committee organised a conference “Strengthening Roma’s political participation” in the EESC in Brussels. The conference aimed to advance Roma’s political participation at the local, national and European level, and to offer an opportunity for stakeholders and experts to engage in dialogue on how best to increase Roma’s participation and representation in politics.
Ivan Ivanov (ERIO Executive Director) opened the conference and reminded participants about the on-going need to promote and ensure Roma political participation. “Roma political participation is still low in the EU: with an estimated Roma population of 6 million, one would expect 2% of political representatives to be from the Roma community. However, this number has not yet been achieved in 2016”, he noted. Mr Ivanov explained that some barriers and obstacles are still blocking Roma involvement in politics as voters and as representatives. He believes Roma should take themselves the responsibility and not leave it to other parties or politicians. Moreover, he pointed out the need to make Roma political participation possible in public life and in politics and give them access to decision-making processes and institutions.
As an active Member of the EESC permanent study group on Roma Inclusion I spoke on the continued frustration of the discrimination that continues in the European Union despite legal anti-discrimination legislation which in in place in every EU Member State. I shared the particular suffering for Roma women which is multifaceted and which needs targeted activities to empower the women and help influence and educate the next generation of Roma. Many of the EU Roma programmes and strategies have no direct positive impact on Roma communities, something that the members of the Permanent Study Group on Roma integration have recently understood following the Going Local visits to countries across Europe. Furthermore the migrant situation across Europe has distracted the focus from the Roma issue and also increased the discrimination and prejudice against Roma communities. The two issues are not the same and both must remain top of the EU agenda.
Georges Dassis (EESC President) said that Roma should be involved at all stages of the decision-making in order to achieve effective policies that can improve their situation within the EU. They should be strongly involved in the development of the national strategies from the preparation, implementation to the evaluation, he added. This view was shared by Dora Huzs (EC, DG JUST) who stated that Roma should be involved from development to the implementation of policies including policy review at all levels. According to MEP Benedek Jávor the main problem with Roma political participation and representation is the inherited anti-political sentiment. Unfortunately, Roma might think they have nothing to do in politics. It is crucial to change this way of thinking. Massimo Toschi (FRA) explained that there are no legal barriers to political participation of Roma, but that the main problem is the implementation of the existing legislation.
Candy Sheridan (Norfolk County Council Planning Committee Chair) shared her story and the challenges she faced to get involved in politics as an Irish Traveller woman. Juan de Dios Ramírez-Heredia, as the first Roma MEP, considers the voting system as the main obstacle for more Roma to get involved in politics. The first Roma woman to be elected MEP, Lívia Járóka, underlined the importance of learning-process for better involvement of Roma in politics and that Roma political participation should be an everyday process, supported by Roma and non-Roma.
You can find presentations and photos of the conference in the event mini-site: http://www.erionet.eu/event-100616
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