Controversial Proposal Regarding Romani Education by the EU Commission's Ambassador to Slovakia
29 July 2004
According to a press release of the Brussels-based European Roma Information Office (ERIO) dated May 13, 2004, in a May 1, 2004 in-terview with a Dutch television sta-tion, Mr Eric Van der Linden, the EU Commission's Ambassador to Slovakia, proposed taking Romani children away from their parents and placing them in boarding schools to ensure they are educated. Mr Van der Linden was quoted as having stated, "I think in the root of the cause we need to strengthen education and organise the educational system in a way that we may have to start to, I'll say it in quotation marks, "force" Romani children to stay in a kind of boarding school from Monday morning until Friday afternoon, where they will continuously be subjected to a system of values which are dominant in our society." Mr Van der Linden also reportedly suggested financial in-centives to reduce resistance by Roma to his proposal.
Mr Van der Linden's comments sparked controversy and debate amongst Romani organisations throughout Europe. While many organisations come out opposed to the idea, some, such as the informal Slovak Romani Parliament, support the idea as a possible measure to improve access to edu-cation of Romani children. ERIO initiated an online petition, calling for the resignation of Mr Van der Linden. However, according to the BBC of May 14, 2004, a spokes-person for the European Commission stated that the "unfortunate choice of words" by Mr. Van der Linden was regretful, but indicated that he would not be removed from office. In June 2004, ERIO sent a letter to Mr Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, expressing concern at the reaction of the Commission and again calling for Mr Van der Linden's removal, stating that his comments contradict the promotion and respect for Roma rights.