ERIO conference on Roma political participation

by ERIO on March 21st, 2019

On 19 March, ERIO organised a conference in cooperation with the European Parliament Vice-President Lívia Járóka titled “Empowering Roma’s political participation” which took place in Brussels during the Roma Week.

The objectives of the conference were to: identify the reasons for the low level of civic and political participation of Roma, such as discrimination; identify possible solutions to improve Roma’s political and civic engagement and exchange good practices and energise Roma across Europe to vote during the European elections. Present at the conference were representatives of the European Parliament, European Commission, national authorities, international organisations, ERIO network members and Roma civil society.

Key speakers included European Parliament Vice-President Lívia Járóka, MEPs Csaba Sógor and James Carver and ERIO’s Executive Director Ivan Ivanov.

Lívia Járóka (European Parliament Vice-President) raised the issue of anti-Gypsyism as a very important phenomenon that needs to be tackled. One way of doing this is by integrating the poor by taking concrete steps in education and employment. If employment is provided for everybody, it would be easier to fight anti-Gypsyism. Moreover, role models are needed for the Roma, which would help branding Roma politically and socially.

MEP Csaba Sógor noted that the Roma’s living conditions can be improved by combined social, political and economic strategies. Although measures can be taken to improve the situation of housing, employment and education of Roma, they cannot be taken to increase meaningful participation. The degree of participation varies by communities and countries. Roma are largely invisible in decision making and mainstream parties should speak up on behalf of the Roma.

MEP James Carver was the first British Roma to be elected for the European Parliament. Even as a Eurosceptic, he is proud of his family roots. He went on to say that many Roma, just like every part of society, have different political views. “We have MEPs representing 4 different political groups. We should recognise that Roma have different perspectives.” According to him, racial discrimination against Roma is the last form of acceptable racism and the way we can fight it is through political participation and by letting mainstream society understand how important the Roma vote is.

Ivan Ivanov (ERIO Executive Director) observed that it is not enough to discuss the serious social problems and anti-Gypsyism Roma face only during the few days of the European Roma Platform and the Roma Week. This is a common European problem of the most deprived and disadvantaged Europeans. This is why Europe should talk, strategize and take actions all the time. The past ten years focused on different policies at EU and national level but Roma’s active and equal participation in political processes was not given much attention. This is why ERIO is putting the question   of political participation in the discussion table as way to eliminate anti-Gypsyism and empower Roma who are too dependent on the political will of non-Roma  politicians not interested to improve the Roma rights situation. In today’s political environment, it is no longer an option for politicians and policy makers to ignore the rising anti-Gypsyism. It is no longer an option for Roma to wait for decision-makers where they are not represented to solve their problem. Roma should use their basic right to vote and be elected, a right given by the state constitutions they live in and international human rights law.

Event mini-site:

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