Report of the meeting of the Informal Contact Group of International Organisations on Roma, Sinti and Travellers

Brussels, 18 November, 2004

Background 

This Informal Contact Group of International Organisations dealing with Roma, Sinti and Travellers issues (Council of Europe, OSCE, European Union, UNHCR, Open Society Institute, World Bank) meets once every six months under the chairmanship of the country that has the presidency of the European Union.
The purpose of these meetings is to keep each other informed of developments within each organisation. Under the Netherlands presidency, the meetings were largely concentrated on a multilateral approach to issues and on establishing common priorities.

Opening

The chairman, Mr Jos Douma, said that the Informal Contact Group was an initiative of the Finnish presidency in 1999.. Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, and France had all held meetings of the contact Group, but Italy, Greece, Spain and Ireland had failed to do so.
.The Netherlands presidency held three meetings in 2004. The next meeting was scheduled under the Luxembourg presidency, to be followed by the United Kingdom. Mr Douma appealed to the representatives of Luxembourg and the United Kingdom to organise a meeting under their respective presidency.

The meeting 

This was the third meeting under the Netherlands presidency and was attended by representatives of the Council of Europe, OSCE, several Directorates of the European Commission, the UNHCR, the Open Society Institute, the World Bank, Roma MEPs, and representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg and the United Kingdom, the two countries next in line for the presidency of the Union.

The issues discussed could be summarised as follows:

1. Major developments in the various international organisations

OSCE (Mr Nicolae Gheorghe)

    A report on the implementation of the Action Plan would be submitted to the OSCE Permanent Council on 22 November 2004. The report would be circulated to the members of the Informal Contact Group.

    The next chairmanship of the OSCE will be assured by Slovenia., which intended to concentrate on Roma at the local level. The Slovene chair was prepared to host a conference between 11 and 24 March, 2005, which could be co-sponsored by the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Commission.

Council of Europe(Ms Miranda Vuolasranta)

    The next meeting of the Group of Specialists on Roma/Gypsies and Travellers (MG-S-ROM) would be held in November, 2004. The Group would be examining a study on access to social rights for nomadic populations in Europe and a draft recommendation on appropriate access of Roma and Travellers to public health care. The group would also be preparing a draft reply to the proposal made in Recommendation 1557(2002) of the Parliamentary Assembly on the legal situation of the Roma in Europe to set up a European Solidarity Fund.

    It was regretted that the European Commission would not be represented at the meeting of the Group of Specialists which would include a hearing with the national authorities on controversial issues such as forced sterilisations.

    A framework curriculum was being elaborated for Romani language as a European mother tongue. Experts will prepare guidelines for the teaching of Romani.

    The European Roma and Travellers Forum had been registered as a non-governmental international organisation and a Partnership Agreement between the Forum and the Council of Europe would be signed in a ceremony on 15 December, 2004 in Strasbourg, in the presence of Mrs Tarja Halonen who had originally launched the idea of a Forum. The Roma and Travellers populations in the various European countries would be selecting their delegates to the Forum. The OSCE/ODIHR was offering 20000 euros to help in the preparation of the selection procedure.The first plenary session of the Forum would take place in late Spring.
    The Forum would be an autonomous body as a non-governmental organisation and would work closely with the various Council of Europe committees dealing with Roma issues, particularly the Group of specialists on Roma/Gypsies and Travellers.

The European Commission ( Ms Ivana Skodova; D.G. Employment and Social Affairs, Mr Detlev
Boeing, D.G. Enlargement; Ms Louise Head, Ms Harris, D.G. External Relations)

(a) General Information

    Mr Spiegler, from the Czech Republic, is the new Commissioner.

    The European Commission is starting a trainee programme for Roma in May, 2005. This Programme has been encouraged by the succesful experience of the Council of Europe with its own trainee programme.

    The D.G. Employment was carrying out an anti-discrimination project through three trans-national programmes run by The Association Gitanos, the Berliner Institute and the Trade Union for Education. The programme is aimed at the desegregation of schools in 4 European member countries. Teachers in these countries will receive training during 2005-6.

    A report on Roma in the Enlarged European Union will be launched in the next few weeks. The report, makes recommendations on housing, education, employment and health, and is being submitted to the Inter-service group (12 D.G.s) for comment.

    The Inter-service Group had met for the first time on 12 November, 2004 and discussed the phenomenon of anti-gypsism in Europe It proposed to create an inventory of all Roma supporting initiatives and projects over the past years. In view of the selection procedure for the European Roma and Travellers Forum, the Council of Europe has collected data on about I500 organisations, which it can share with the European Commission.
    The Inter-service Group will hold its second meeting on 25 January, 2005 to which Ms Livia Jaroka, a Roma MEP, will be invited as an expert.

    A Working Group on the collection of ethnic data has been set up and a conference on Data Collection will be organised jointly with the Finnish Government in December, 2004 in Helsinki.

    The Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) will become a Human Rights Agency.

    D.G. Social Affairs is cooperating with ERIO on human rights violations against Roma. Other organisations are encouraged to inform this Directorate of violations of which they become aware.

(b) Accession countries (Mr Detlef Boeing)

    Accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania will be closed by end 2004 and D.G. Enlargement was drafting the accession treaties. Monitoring, including the situation of the Roma, will continue until accession. 2.2 million euros are currently allocated under the
    PHARE programme to Bulgaria for projects in favour of disadvantaged minorities . Nine million euros were allocated for projects in the field of health, education and public service with a specific focus on Roma.. Thirty million euros are available for projects targeting ethnic minorities. Among the activities planned is a public awareness raising programme on Roma as well as another project on quality education, with a specific focus on Roma. Croatia, currently under the responsibility of D.G. External Relations, will shift to D.G. Enlargement.

    Mr Nicolae Gheorghe (OSCE) pointed out that there was a feeling in Bulgaria that the Roma are being privileged, and the local authorities were obstructive to reforms for the Roma. He feared the same might happen in Roumania.

Non-accession countries

    The D.G. External Relations will no longer be responsible for the Western Balkans but for the EU Neighbourhood policy.. The focus on Roma will shift, inter alia, to the Ukraine and Moldova.. The D.G covered human rights violations in general, so resources for Roma issues were limited.
    The Council of Europe would provide the D.G. with information on the human rights situation in Moldova and the Ukraine.

The Roma Decade Initiative (Mr Andre Wilkens, Open Society Institute; Ms Sabine Simmross,World Bank)

This is a regional effort to close the gap between the Roma and the non-Roma, supported by the World Bank, the OSCE, the EU and the OSI. It concerns four areas: education, employment, housing and health and entails action programmes for the governments for the next ten years. It was being proposed to have the secretariat in Budapest or Bucharest and to internationalise the secretariat.

Many countries participating in the Decade have a wrong perception of the initiative and see it as a funded project. This is not the case, except for the issue of education where the Fund is to be seen as a separate initiative. The seat of the Education Fund will be in Paris at the Council of Europe Development Fund.

2. Monitoring and evaluating activities on Roma issues 

The question of monitoring was raised by Mr Nicolae Gheorghe (OSCE/ODIHR) who expressed his regret that the states did not make better use of the OSCE Action Plan for Roma and Sinti, which was hardly known outside the Ministries for Foreign Affairs. He would be shortly submitting a report on the implementation of the OSCE Action Plan to the Permanent Council of the OSCE.
He had to admit however that, in the absence of a monitoring system, which was not wanted by the states, it was not possible to ensure a follow up of the Action Plan. Results on the ground needed to become more visible. He believed that the reluctance of states to monitoring was also linked to the fact that there was too much duplication.

This view was shared by Mr Ian Naysmith (United Kingdom, Home Office) who proposed a better coordination between the different organisations involved in monitoring.

Mr Henry Scicluna (Council of Europe) said that a considerable amount of monitoring was done by the Council of Europe on human rights issues, including issues concerning Roma and Travellers. The ECRI, the Framework Convention for the Protectionof national minorities, and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages all monitored developments concerning Roma and Travellers. The experts of these bodies who carry out field visits on their monitoring exercises are supplied with relevant background information and a list of Roma representatives to contact during their visit. On the other hand, the Group of Specialists on Roma/Gypsies and Travellers issues numerous recommendations and, without monitoring, there is no way of knowing their effect.

He recalled that in the third Stability Pact project the Council of Europe would concentrate on the evaluation and monitoring of the national strategies in the various countries.

Ms Ivana Skodova (European Commission, DG Social Affairs) said that the Commission realised it was necessary to know how projects, including PHARE projects, were implemented. She proposed that Commission representatives visit Roma settlements, that Commission officials and national civil servants should receive specific training and that Roma professionals could assure the monitoring of projects. She recognised that there was a need for a strategy on evaluation.

Mr Jos Douma underlined that the Commission survey “Roma in an enlarged European Union” recommended evaluation and clear bench-marking.

Mr Detlev Boeing (European Commission, DG Enlargement) said that his DG was very active in monitoring in the context of pre-accession strategies and accession negotiations. He said that there was currently an evaluation of projects financed under the PHARE programme., covering programmes of a total value of between 60 and 90 million euros and included projects in Bulgaria and Romania.

Mr AndreWilkens (Open Society Institute) recalled that evaluation as an issue was also raised in the context of the Decade of Rome Inclusion.

During this discussion, several participants mentioned the difficulties concerning Roma participation in monitoring and evaluation. The Roma were not always prepared to take responsibility and get involved in monitoring exercises. The Roma representatives on a steering committee on structural funds in Slovakia were not competent to carry out evaluation and needed training.

The issue of monitoring raised considerable interest amongst the members of the Contact Group, who are aware that the credibility of the various organisations does not depend on meetings and seminars but on tangible results. It was also obvious that there was a lot of uncoordinated monitoring carried out by different organisations.

3. The situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) 

The situation of Roma IDPs in Central Europe was raised by several participants.
Ms Annabelle Roig, (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) said that, with regard to refugee status for asylum seekers, it was possible to consider ongoing discrimination as persecution according to the Geneva Convention and a ground for asylum. Roma were frequently attacked by
radical groups. She added that statelessness specifically affected Roma, who do not have proper documentation.

Mr Jens Schwab (Migration, Asylum Refugees, regional Initiatives - MARRI) said that the aim of his organisation was to promote law reform in order to give IDPs social and economic rights.. At a later stage the initiative would be extended to other vulnerable groups, including Roma.

Ms Miranda Vuolasranta, (Council of Europe) referred to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concerning IDPs and to the need for a lasting solution. She added that 120 Romani families had been evicted from the neighbourhood of Belgrade and transferred to rural areas where they lacked access to infrastructure and services.

Mr Nicolae Gheorghe (OSCE) said that a Roma meeting held in Vienna on 4-5 November, 2004 favoured a regional approach to the problem of Roma refugees and IDP’s. He called on the Luxembourg and United Kingdom representatives to ensure that the issue of IDPs is discussed at the European Council Group on the Western Balkans.

Mr Henry Scicluna (Council of Europe) proposed that each of the organisations present should collect their documentation on the IDP issue (recommendations, reports,etc.).

Mr Nicolae Gheorghe(OSCE) said that he would contract an expert for a compilation of the documents. The various issues resulting from the compilation would be discussed at the next meeting.

Mr Jos Douma (Chairman) said that the subject was of a sensitive character and should be discussed from a technical rather than a political perspective.

All the organisations represented agreed to send their respective documentation on IDPs and to discuss the various issues involved on the basis of a document to be prepared by the OSCE consultant.