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Zuzanna Ziomecka
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this story is part of the 25-29 Dec 2017 Weekly Hindsight Read the hindsight

Roma professionals  are not welcome in Brussels

Claudia Ciobanu recommended by Claudia Ciobanu NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe

10-12 million Roma people live in Europe, half of them in EU countries. Nevertheless, there's hardly any Roma person working in the EU institutions  have a considerable impact on their lives.

Central & Eastern Europe Smoke signals

Why this story matters:

Despite the fact that the Roma are Europe's largest ethnic minority, they have virtually no impact on policies made in Brussels -- not even those aimed at changing the lives of Roma citizens.

To fix this problem, more than a decade ago, the European Commission opened an internship program -- financed by the Open Society Foundation -- preparing Roma youth for future jobs at European institutions.

The program was eventually disbanded because it failed to have an impact. No matter how hard the young Roma professionals worked during the traineeship, they still didn't secure jobs in Brussels later on. Why?

Ginger Hervey and Saim Saeed investigated the issue in an article published by POLITICO Europe. According to them, there were other reasons apart from outright discrimination.

The job candidates were expected to speak multiple languages, have advanced degrees and, at first, volunteer or take up poorly paid internships.

This was not an option for many of the Roma trainees who came from poor villages in Central and Eastern Europe and didn't benefit from private school education or additional tutoring that many of the successful candidates had access to growing up. They had to help out families back home therefore couldn't afford to work for free.

The traineeship was closed and didn't get replaced with any other option, and hence the number of Roma people employed in EU offices in Brussels remains so low that it could be counted on the fingers of one hand (according to an interviewee quoted in the article). Sadly, it doesn't seem likely to change in the near future.

Main points:

  • In 2015, the European Commission disbanded one of the few programs in the EU aimed at providing job opportunities for young Roma. The justification was that the program failed to help the Roma secure positions at EU institutions or other Brussels-based organizations. The Open Society Foundation, which had financed the scheme, withdrew the funding.
  • Around 80 people have taken part in the program over the decade of its functioning, but none of them got a job at the Commission afterwards. 
  • Among the reasons why the Roma youth didn't get employed are: outright discrimination; the expectations that candidates speak multiple languages, have specialized higher degrees or knowledge about the EU and the common requirement to complete unpaid or poorly paid internships first.
  • As a result of a systemic exclusion, very few Roma people work in the institutions or organizations in Brussels. If they are employed there, then mostly on temporary positions or at Roma NGOs.
  • The EU allocates hundreds of millions of euros to improve the situation for Roma in member countries. But because of the lack of Roma staff, the funding is planned by non-Roma people who often have no clue about the realities of the Roma communities.

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