With 10-12 million members, the Roma population is Europe’s largest minority. Their communities vary in terms of culture and religion, legal status, language, settlement models, and periods of migration. But, despite efforts at local, national and European levels, in many countries Roma show high levels of social exclusion from employment, education, health and social services; high rates of illiteracy; and poor school attendance. Many Roma people live in segregated, isolated districts where overcrowding and a lack of basic facilities contribute to poor health. The URBACT project ROMA-NeT was set up by nine European cities to help improve the social inclusion and community integration of their Roma populations. They built ROMA-NeT on the conviction that the integration of Roma populations is vital in a cohesive society, in line with the European Commission’s long-term goals, and that cities have a critical, central role to play if Roma inclusion is to move from a concept to a functioning reality. For three years the partner cities investigated how to overcome negative attitudes and improve consultation and engagement with the Roma community. They worked to identify ways to improve community cohesion and engagement, employment and education, social, healthcare and housing, as well as governance and community policing. Much of their work focused on a step-by-step inclusive approach, particularly, for young Roma and their transition into active adult citizens.

copyright : Bence Járdányi

Main results

Each ROMA-NeT city set up a Local Support Group bringing together for the first time stakeholders from services such as education, healthcare, employment, housing, policing and political organisations, as well as local Roma organisations, to discuss Roma inclusion actions. In addition, and linked to this, a series of transnational “learning clusters” focused on three main themes: active community engagement and local empowerment; integrated approach to housing and local service provision; and Roma employability – understanding the barriers to employment.

Recommendations for Roma Inclusion in EU Cities

The project concludes: “ROMA-NeT cities have already begun a journey that has the chance to really make a difference across all the important themes and to spread the message to other cities on how they might begin to achieve this too. For many European cities that have to confront the fact that they have a Roma community facing problems of exclusion,marginalisation and discrimination, the reality is the same as for ROMA-NeT cities. They should listen to the experiences of ROMA-NeT.”

Four key messages for cities

One step at a time
Roma inclusion takes time and effort. A step-by-step approach is needed. Initiatives forcing too big an “integration leap”, such as moving Roma families from ghettos to blocks of flats, are doomed to fail. A gradual integration process needs to be in place with active, individual support and communication along the way.

More than one piece
Roma integration is a process that should integrate a number of key elements. There is no quick fix solution. Simply providing a job, or a better housing environment, is far from sufficient.

Together – in equal partnerships with the community
Institutions offering support should work in partnership. The integrated, community-led approach is the only way forward for social inclusion of Roma and other vulnerable groups.

Involve Roma at an early stage–“nothing about us without us”
Only Roma people have the power to change their lives; you can only support this process. Adopt innovative ways to involve them from the start - traditional participative methods will not work! If they seem disinterested, you are not trying hard enough!

Wider Recommendations – Some Highlights

Longer term programme-based funding over project-based funding.
Projects aiming at improving social inclusion do not achieve their potential in two or three years: much longer periods are needed. Moreover, the results tend not to last long, unless continuity is ensured.

Cities, and all development actors, must trust the Roma community to articulate what they need to improve the quality of life and living conditions in their community.

Working with Roma at local level throughout policy development, action planning and implementation is critical for successful Roma inclusion measures. To allow funds to be allocated for active Roma community engagement and community participation interventions, Managing Authorities must ensure such measures are included in the partnership contracts and operational programmes.

Continued capacity building is necessary for the Local Support Groups (LSG) in ROMA-NeT cities. Further training and support is needed to help the LSGs develop to ensure each city prepares a successful funding application for the necessary EU Structural Funds to support implementation of their Local Action Plans. There is a need to cover continued LSG capacity building activities that will prepare cities to develop integrated proposals focusing on the new measures being introduced in the 2014– 2020 Common Strategic Framework.

Civil society organisations are critical in the implementation of Roma inclusion measures, so actions must continue to support, strengthen and build the capacity of those seriously lacking resources. To this end it is necessary that not only large organisations and large projects are funded through the Structural Funds, but that local organisations and the realisation of local ideas become components of larger urban development activities.

Cities should not be afraid to confront racism and discrimination issues head on. They should use communications to explain the current situation and change behaviour – both in Roma and wider communities. To allow funds to be allocated for such interventions, Managing Authorities should ensure relevant anti-discrimination measures are included in partnership contracts and operational programmes.

The EU, cities and other public sector organisations should look at ways to cut through the bureaucracy to make the development and implementation of Roma inclusion measures easier to take from idea to successful interventions.

Local authorities, in partnership with Roma populations and key local stakeholders, should follow the example of ROMA-NeT cities in developing evidence-based Local Action Plans which include integrated measures as the basis of a future application for EUStructural Funds in the 2014–2020 programming period. TheEuropeanCommission’sCommon Strategic Framework 2014-2020 makes provision for ‘community-led local development’ measures, which offers real opportunity for cities to develop integrated local actions.

ROMA-NeT calls for a significant increase in Roma inclusion actions across Europe, particularly, through new initiatives from many more cities. These actions will reveal what really works, enable the creation of good practices, and most importantly, contribute to improving living conditions and life circumstances of Roma populations across Europe.

Eight Thematic Guides

“All Roma inclusion strategy documents ask for an integrated, meaningful, cross-sector approach, but this has only just begun to happen through projects like ROMA-NeT with proven, tangible results,” states ROMA-NeT. To help other cities learn from these results, and the experiences they gained during the project, the partner cities produced a set of thematic guides available online. Presenting case studies from across the EU, useful contacts, and other resources, the ROMA-NeT guides clarify eight key issues facing Roma communities and their cities, as follows:

− An introduction to the challenges of Roma inclusion
A background to working with Roma communities, this guide introduces the four key themes of education, employment, healthcare and housing, that underpin all issues affecting Roma people across the EU.

− The education challenges of Roma inclusion
The scale of this challenge is highlighted with figures from Greece where under 10% of Roma children go to kindergarten, pre-school or school. The guide provides tried and tested educational practices for improving inclusion, with actions encouraging zero tolerance of prejudice, harassment and racism in schools. Features interesting examples of how Roma parents are involved with kindergartens in Torrent and Nagykallo.

− The health and social care challenges of Roma inclusion
With life expectancy for Roma populations in Eastern Europe about 10 years less than the overall population, “negative experiences from the past and exclusionary attitudes from ‘public authorities’ make many Roma reluctant, even afraid, to approach doctors, health care professionals or to engage with social care providers”.Many of the innovative approaches to health and social care selected for this guide involve outreach work and health mediators. A case study shows how Glasgow is helping families to claim free school meals.

− The housing challenges of Roma inclusion
“Most Roma people want to be part of a legitimate economy and to contribute to the wider community of which they are part,” explains this guide. But residential segregation of many Roma communities, sometimes resulting from deliberate past public policies, represents “a significant barrier” to providing adequate housing, healthcare, education and employment services. An example from Madrid shows how an integrated and inclusive approach to housing and regeneration, led by a regional public authority, can significantly improve social integration and community cohesion.

− The employability challenges of Roma inclusion
Just one in three Roma are in paid work, which is not only critical for Roma individuals, but also a drain on national, regional and local economies. Proposing a set of practical responses for cities, this guide calls for greater investment in educational support, skill development and other employability measures. It features a case study of the “START UP” Budapest Municipality Trainee Project for Young Roma, involving trainee placementswith theMayor’sOffice, schools, hospitals and other municipal institutions.

− The policing challenges of Roma inclusion
ROMA-NeT’s partner cities draw here on their experiences of how various policing approaches affect social cohesion between Roma and neighbouring communities. It outlines how police can engage better with other public sector partners and with Roma communities, helping protect Roma against crime as well as enforcing when appropriate. Many solutions lie in improving communication and understanding. This is reflected in an informative case study of Strathclyde Police’s work in Govanhill, Glasgow, a central area where many Roma people live in poverty.

− Roma on the move in Europe – The challenges for inclusion
Understanding that the main reason Roma change countries is to find a better life, ROMA-NeT’s partner cities present possible solutions for tackling the “extraordinary discrimination” faced by Roma people when they exercise their right to move freely within the European Union. As well as clearing up some of the myths about the way Roma families live, this guide investigates how movement affects Roma and two example cities, Kosice and Glasgow.

− The planning and governance for Roma inclusion
This guide outlines the ROMA-NeT cities’ varied experiences of the URBACT methodology, including Local Support Groups of key service providers and organisations working with Roma communities, and the development of a Local Action Plan in each city. This approach, they resume, “gives stakeholder groups the tools to develop a positive partnership approach for specific local actions”. A case study on Torrent reveals “How URBACT ROMA-NeT planning processes helped create intelligent schools”.


Although the project has finished, ROMANeT’s partners see this as the beginning of a path towards Roma inclusion and integration.

“ROMA-NeT cities continue to face big challenges in improving access to education; housing and living conditions; health services; employability and skills for Roma populations, but they are better organised and better equipped to face the challenges of the future. ROMA-NeT cities know most importantly that they must find and invest in innovative ways to engage and to work in partnership alongside Roma communities,” states ROMA-NeT.

Beyond the transnational, learning and local outputs originally planned – and the Local SupportGroups, which will continue involving Roma in planning and delivering local actions –ROMA-NeT has generated spin-off activities in each partner city. In Karvina, for example, a new Roma Mentor position was created, enabling the municipality to have discussions with Roma people, not just about them. Kosice has undertaken the first in-depth analysis of municipal Roma integration policies over the last 20 years, identifying questions that need answering to overcome the unsatisfactory situation of Roma in the city. In Nagykallo, discussions have started with the Regional Operational Programme Managing Authority in Hungary to launch a EUR 0.7 million pilot project on social urban rehabilitation.

Building on their work with ROMA-NeT, Glasgow, Budapest, Bologna, Kosice have joined the RomaMatrix project co-funded by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme (2013-2015), a 19-strong partnership formed to combat racism, intolerance and xenophobia towards Roma and to increase integration.

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“Roma integration is not a project that only has one element; it is a process that should integrate a number of key elements. The integrated, community-led approach is the only way forward for social inclusion of Roma and other vulnerable groups. Involving Roma people from the beginning is key! If the local Roma seem disinterested: you are not trying hard enough!”