The Roma continue to be one of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable minorities in Europe. The Roma Education Fund (REF), funded principally by the World Bank, the Soros network of foundations, and the Network of European Foundations (NEF), was set up in 2005 as part of the European Decade on Roma Inclusion to reduce the educational gap between Roma and non-Roma children. A first – and positive – external evaluation was recently completed of REF’s work so far.
In December 2007, the European Council of the EU declared its concern to promote the social and economic inclusion of Roma. This was followed in September 2008 by a special Roma Summit organized by the European Commission to review the policies needed to make real progress. Through NEF, under the leadership of the Freudenberg Foundation, an advisory group including Roma was set up and formulated a series of recommendations called the Weinheim Declaration. This was submitted to the Roma Summit and subsequently presented to the governments of the 27 Member States.
The Weinheim Declaration advocates policies to underpin the interrelated goals of socioeconomic inclusion, respect for the Roma identity, and dismantling of the institutions that reproduce and amplify the racial divide in European societies – something that would benefit not only Roma but everyone. It identifies the periods of early childhood and transition to primary education, and transition from school to work and adult life, as stages that require more investment by the EU and national governments, and also better coordination between the REF and the EU’s Structural Funds, which now provide significant financial resources in the new Member States. In this way they could contribute to promoting lifelong learning opportunities as a key factor in securing equality, and also avoid the present tendency to ghettoize and marginalize the Roma issue and alienate non-Roma.
The Declaration is an innovative example of policy advocacy by foundations directed simultaneously at the EU and national governments. It calls on the European Council and the European Parliament to jointly monitor progress and continuing obstacles every two years.
Hywel Ceri Jones is European Policy Adviser to NEF. Email firstname.lastname@example.org