Enhancing opportunities for Roma participation essential in European Roma policy

According to the Government Report on Human Rights Policy, Finland emphasises the rights of the Roma in its European human rights activities. Finland has long been a high-profile political and financial supporter of Roma activities in European intergovernmental organisations.

In 2021, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs launched a project aiming to further develop practices in European and Baltic region Roma policy. Completed in summer 2021, the report on this project pays particular attention to developing tools for Roma participation and facilitating cooperation among the various actors.

Greater transparency and opportunities for preparatory-stage participation

According to the report, the participation of the Roma in national Roma policy programmes and in the European Roma policy remains relatively limited. It is essential for Roma policy actors to have the support of the wider Roma population.

The Roma interviewed for the report hoped for greater transparency and Roma participation already when activities were under preparation. The report recommends strengthening meaningful inclusion and emphasises, alongside the development of substance questions and methods, the building of dialogue, relationships and cooperation as well as open communication. The focus should be not only on policy outcomes but also on the processes of participation.

Tackling elitism

The bodies responsible for European Roma policy are the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE ) and the European Union. The report urges support for the capabilities of Finnish Roma organisations and actors, especially those for Roma youth and women, to take part in European cooperation and emphasises the importance of strengthening the cooperation between Roma organisations.

Like any community, Roma communities have multiple social layers, and the decision-makers in these communities tend to be more highly-educated and of a higher socioeconomic standing than average. The term used in the report is ‘Roma elitism’. It may be tackled through more extensive co-operation with Roma liaison activities and the readiness of officials operating in the field of Roma policymaking to encounter people from linguistically, socially, and culturally different backgrounds.

Spotlight on regional and political cooperation

The report focuses on Roma policy cooperation in the Nordic countries and Baltic states. A feature common to these countries is their relatively small Roma population when compared to many other countries in Europe, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. The size of the population must not play a role in the enforcement of human rights and the rights of minorities, however. Stronger regional cooperation could help the Roma population of these regions get their voice better heard in European dialogue and decision-making. The report recommends that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs engage in cooperation at the level of region, policy and officials on a permanent basis.

The dialogue meetings held as part of the project were attended by Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto. The matter was also on the agenda at the ministerial meeting of the Nordic, Baltic and Visegrád countries (Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary) hosted by Minister Haavisto in September 2021. At this meeting, Roma themselves were heard on the needs to develop Roma policy.

Rauno Merisaari

The author is Ambassador for Human Rights and Democracy at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.