The latest survey on the status of the European Union's largest Roma minority should be seen as an occasion for stock-taking on the effectiveness of the racial equality legislation. Conducted by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) and the United Nations Development Programme, the study points to the need to expand education and employment opportunities to end the vicious cycle of exclusion, discrimination and poverty in this community. Of those covered in the survey, carried out across 11 EU member states, a meagre 15 per cent of adult Roma had attained education up to higher secondary levels compared to over 70 per cent among the non-Roma majority. Similarly, less than 30 per cent were in paid employment and 45 per cent lived in households lacking one or another basic amenity. Of particular concern is the finding that deprivation among the Roma is acute even in EU countries with a higher standard of living. The FRA evidence corroborates a recent Amnesty International report which highlights disturbing findings of discrimination and persecution of Roma communities. The term Roma covers a wide diversity of groups, including Gypsies and others with itinerant lifestyles. The Roma population is in the region of 10-12 million, as per estimates of the Council of Europe. According to historians, between a quarter and half a million were exterminated in the Nazi Holocaust. In the past decade, segregation and violence against the Roma associated with anti-immigration tendencies have been widespread in France, Romania and Bulgaria. In recent years though, Germany has initiated several measures to commemorate its Roma heroes in the cultural and sporting arenas.
In the context of the current economic recession and crippling austerity in the EU, it would be hard to conceive of any real and sustained recovery, or improvements to the continent's long term global competitiveness, in the absence of significant advances in the life prospects of its largest minority. In June 2011, for the first time, EU governments pledged to adopt strategies to integrate the Roma into their respective mainstreams. But the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has pointed out that member states had yet to deliver concrete action. Relevant in this connection is the tendency nowadays among political parties of the centre-right to appeal to the anti-immigrant constituency both at national and European elections. These parties — and their leaders — are playing with fire and must bear responsibility for creating the sort of xenophobic climate in which hate crimes against the Roma and other minorities occur.