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EC: EU money can help Roma

MONEY alone cannot solve the problems of Slovakia’s numerous socially excluded Roma communities, Roma rights activists say. At the same time, however, they complain that projects directed at solving the problems of Roma people living in poverty and deprived of society’s benefits are underfunded. ‘European money’ could be very helpful in the process if used effectively, EU authorities claim.

MONEY alone cannot solve the problems of Slovakia’s numerous socially excluded Roma communities, Roma rights activists say. At the same time, however, they complain that projects directed at solving the problems of Roma people living in poverty and deprived of society’s benefits are underfunded. ‘European money’ could be very helpful in the process if used effectively, EU authorities claim.

There is still enough room for the Slovak government to make use of money from EU structural funds to help Roma, particularly in the areas of education, housing and employment, the European Commission (EC) said.

“Solving numerous problems concerning the excluded Roma communities should be a priority and a vast part of the available resources should be spent on the support of their social inclusion,” the Sme daily quoted from an EC position paper that Commissioner Johannes Hahn presented to the Slovak cabinet during his visit to Slovakia on November 9. In the paper, the EC reportedly voiced criticism of Slovakia’s approach to solving the problems of its large Roma community.

The Commission Position Paper for the Partnership Agreement is the commission’s recommendation to Slovakia about what to focus on and what to improve when drawing financial resources from EU funds during the upcoming 2014-2020 programme period.

All the EU member states are now working on their Partnership Agreements for the next round of regional policy funding, based on, among other things, the priorities for structural funds that Commissioner Hahn and his team are outlining.

Slovakia lags behind the EU average in its ability to draw EU funds, with only 38 percent [of the available resources drawn], while the average is 44 percent, according to the EC. In the current 2007-2013 programme period, Slovakia has a total allocation of €11.5 billion (implemented via nine European Regional Development Fund and Cohesion Fund programmes and two European Social Fund programmes). In addition, it receives €220 million under cross-border programmes and €2 billion under the Rural Development Programme, EC figures show.

In the next programming period the sum of allocated funds is expected to be even higher.
“Slovakia needs to ensure that it has a business-friendly environment,” Commissioner Hahn said ahead of his visit to Slovakia. “It must be open and transparent, with both independent and robust control and management systems. These will be essential in boosting investor confidence.”

In its position paper the EC recommends that Slovakia concentrate funds on several key areas, including the promotion of an innovation-friendly business environment (through enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs, among others); the development of basic infrastructure, particularly its key transport networks; sustainable use of natural resources; modernisation of public
administration; tackling corruption and the development of human capital “by reinforcing all levels of education, increasing access to employment of the most vulnerable groups in society (in particular the young and long-term unemployed), and promoting the social inclusion of marginalised Roma communities”.

In the position paper the EC claims to be “very disappointed” with the way the Slovak government is using money from EU funds for aiding Roma, according to the Sme daily.

The EC recommends focusing on the education of Roma children, who are often placed into segregated classes or even special schools. Health-care programmes and financial literacy of the Roma were mentioned among the priorities as well.

“Programming of the EU funds for the next financial period is practically a historical opportunity that might bring a breakthrough for the situation of the Roma minority,” Katarína Mathernová from the World Bank, who analysed the situation of the Roma minority, told Sme.

‘The reform’ is the answer?

Education was the first area of the so-called ‘Roma reform’ presented by Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, currently responsible for Roma minority-related problems, and the government’s proxy for Roma communities, Peter Pollák. The reform entitled “The Right Way” includes solutions divided into six areas. Pollák and Kaliňák were planning to present one area every week, but so far only the section on education was presented in late October.

The entire reform package is supposed to be presented to the public by the end of 2012, Marta Fabianová from the Interior Ministry’s press department told The Slovak Spectator.

In the realm of education the Kaliňák-Pollák team proposed several solutions, including three years of compulsory pre-school education, prolonging compulsory school education to 12 years, day-long activities organised by pre-schools and schools for at-risk children (based on their performance at school, school attendance and behaviour), making financial aid from the state’s social system conditional upon the children’s behaviour and school attendance, preventing children with less serious learning disabilities from being admitted to special schools and introducing motivational benefits for teachers working with at-risk children.

The reform was criticised by municipalities and activists for lacking sufficient funds to cover the proposed measures.

“If you are asking where the money for the measures will come from, you’ve just got your answer from the European Commission,” said Kaliňák, as quoted by Sme.

The government is counting on considerable resources from EU funds to finance the measures of the Roma reform: for example, to pay for the construction of flats and related infrastructure, or to finance some measures related to the labour market, the Interior Ministry’s Fabianová specified for The Slovak Spectator.

Money from EU funds is, however, meant as a complementary resource and as such it can be used to introduce new systematic measures, but not to sustain already existing ones. Resources from the state budget are thus necessary for sustaining any projects that the government comes up with, Fabianová noted.

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