European politics is more than the collection of 28 national sentiments, more than the theme of yet another Sonntagsrede, more than the regular summit of national chief executives. Way more than this.

The forgotten people

Hardly any minority in Europe today has less rights and is more subjected to political arbitrariness than the Romani people. Its treatment includes social and economical exclusion in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, dubious mass deportations from France and Italy and hits the bottom with the “Hungarian Guard Movement”, a nationalist civil militia marching in Romani dominated neighbourhoods, setting houses on fire, only to shoot the people, who are escaping from their burning homes.

Needless to say, there are problems caused by the Romani people, especially with regard to petty crime. And anyone who has been walking through a Romani settlement in Romania or Slovakia would probably agree that perhaps there are nicer places to be. But the pressing questions has to be how to deal with those problems. In their the way to handle them, European governments seem to be driven by exhaustive stupidity. A more humanitarian and cooperative approach towards the needs of the Romani people and an acknowledgement of their problems would not only answer the purposes of this ill-treated minority, but would also relieve the governing politicians of some very own political burden.

Many governing parties and politicians from the political centre still believe it’s possible to weaken right-wing populist oppositions by tightening their own positions towards immigrants and minorities. By giving in, they hope, they would have a shot in the bad political atmosphere that the right-wings are creating. But bad atmosphere barely makes for good policies. There’s only one winner in the game of the right-wings – and that’s the right-wings. The French President just painfully experienced where that could end up.

The only way out of this mess is policy that is driven by one thing and one thing only: pure reason. If politicians from the political centre manage to pull the debate about the problems of and with the Romani people out of the populist corner and approach it in a more constructive and unemotional manner, they would not only serve the actual cause, they would also help themselves in their neverending struggles with right-wing populists.

Such an approach has to be comprehensive social of the Romani people integration including a guaranteed access to education for children and special job programmes for unemployed Roma. It has to be executed by setting well-defined goals and an effective system to monitor the progress.

That would also bring about economic benefits. According to a paper by the World Bank in 2010, comprehensice integration of Roma minorities into the labour force of Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and the Czech Republic would make for 10 million Euros in additional economic and 3.5 million euros in additional tax revenues for those economies – annually.

So apperently, politicians in favor of the strict way the deal with minorities not only lack human emphathy, but also political and economic reason. That has to be the only explaination for their self-damaging policies.

The most damage, however, has to be faced by the Romani people. One might argue whether their problems are self-imposed, but one thing is for a fact: Roma are somehow the forgotten people in Europe. With 11 million they are the biggest ethnic group in Europe without a souvereign state to back them. If, for example, the Hungarian minority in Slovakia is in trouble, they would have the support of the Hungarian government. If the Danish minority in Slesvig-Holsten is in trouble, they would have the support of the Danish government. If the Romani people are in trouble, they have nobody’s support. A fact that, by the way, once led a Romani representative in Romania to walk into the Indian Embassy in Bucharest to seek support by the government in Delhi. Unsurprisingly, this endeavour remained unsuccessful. It leaves the Romani people powerless on a bilateral level and powerless in their everyday lifes.

European institutions are fully aware of this problem. The Commission, together with the Hungary’s then-Council presidency, set out a masterplan that would enhanced the protection and the integration of the Romani people. Even ever-critical NGOs acknowledged this plan as a first step in the right direction. But whatever thoughtful plan the Commission proposes, ultimately it is up to the national states to execute those plan and put them into action. And here’s where the problem starts all over again.



This piece first appeared on on Nov. 2nd (in German). Follow me on Twitter @brnshnwd

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