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Roma Rights 2011: Funding Roma Rights: Challenges and Prospects

5th, October, 2012

Learning from the EURoma Network

Fundación Secretariado Gitano / EURoma Technical Secretariat1

The EU is suffering one of the toughest economic crises ever, which has negatively affected, among other things, Europe’s labour markets. Member States have been forced to implement stringent fiscal adjustments, accompanied by deep cuts in social protection investments. The latter disproportionately impact Europe’s most disadvantaged social groups, including the Romani population.

It is in this context that EU institutions and Member States are designing the new programming period for Structural Funds (2014-2020).2 The European Commission’s Europe 2020 Strategy, which builds on and streamlines the Lisbon agenda of the past decade, its associated flagship initiatives and planned actions,3 as well as the Council Conclusions on a European Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies (European Framework),4 highlight the increasingly central role that Structural Funds are playing in investment in key social protection measures and access to public services for persons and communities in situations of poverty and exclusion. The European Framework set also indicates that “EU funding alone cannot resolve the situation of the Roma”, but remembers the amount of funds programmed “to support the efforts of the EU members in social inclusion, which includes actions in support of the Roma. EU funds will be crucial in the development of National Strategies, notably the Structural Funds, complementary to national resources.”5 In that sense, the Structural Funds are therefore expected to become a pillar of Roma integration at the local, regional, national and EU levels.

In this context, the European Network on Social Inclusion and Roma under the Structural Funds (EURoma Network)6 is particularly well-positioned to play a key role in promoting the use of Structural Funds as a basic financial and policy instrument for Roma integration.

Roma and the Structural Funds

In 2010, Network partners decided to reflect on the achievements, shortcomings and challenges ahead for mainstreaming Roma-related issues in the implementation of programmes co-financed by Structural Funds.

Our report, Roma and the Structural Funds,7 provides a rigorous analysis of available data on the use of Structural Funds within the period 2007-2013 for the improvement of the conditions in which the Romani population lives, aiming at identifying key learning to be included during the ongoing programming period and the next programming period 2014-2020. It undertakes a critical analysis of Structural Funds as a policy and financial instrument for tackling the problems of Roma and concludes by identifying the lessons learned and future challenges for the network.

Many countries, especially those with larger Romani populations, have launched a number of programmes and projects aiming to improve the living conditions of Roma, to facilitate their social inclusion and to reduce the gap between Roma and the majority population. These programmes are not only oriented towards tackling the needs of Romani communities, but are also working on systems and capacity-building in the institutions dealing with Roma and other vulnerable groups.

Despite the fact that many programmes are still in an early phase of planning or implementation and in several cases experience delays, Structural Funds undoubtedly represent not only an opportunity for investing in Romani communities, but also a pool for designing more effective long-term policies involving different actors in close coordination with national, social and employment policies.

How is funding for Roma being used?

There is little data about the quantity of funds allocated to programmes and projects directly aimed at or indirectly benefiting Roma. It is hard to find information about the number of direct beneficiaries disaggregated by age and gender as well as ethnicity, and the impact of actions in both quantitative and qualitative terms.

However, there are clear indications that a significantly higher proportion of activities target Roma directly or as part of vulnerable groups in the current programming period (2007-2013) in comparison with the preceding period (2000-2006). Some EURoma Member States, notably Hungary and Romania, potentially included Roma in more than 50% of their co-funded activities. Some Member States have dedicated budget lines for activities aimed exclusively at Roma, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Spain, Poland, Romania and Slovakia; these are primarily in the fields of employment, community-level social integration and education.8 To varying extents, all countries associated with the EURoma Network involve Roma in programmes.

The key activities that can be identified in the Operational Programmes (OPs) in accordance with the Structural Funds regulations include:

  1. Access of Roma to employment, to self-employment and to occupation at all levels of the professional hierarchy;
  2. Access of Roma to all types and to all levels of vocational guidance, vocational training, advanced vocational training and retraining, including practical work experience;
  3. Education, health and training of Roma including European Social Fund (ESF) activities in the sphere of primary or special education; and
  4. Access to administrative and social services, and social infrastructure by Romani individuals.

In eight cases (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain), the national OPs define Romani people as an explicit target group, while in all cases Roma may benefit indirectly through funding for socially vulnerable or excluded communities, or through investment in system/administrative and infrastructural improvements. In four cases (Finland, Greece, Italy and Sweden), Roma are not mentioned explicitly, raising the question of whether they would benefit indirectly from such programmes, as they are not excluded as potential recipients. A significant number of countries address specific projects and measures to Romani communities and individuals.

What kind of activity is being funded?

Three predominant areas of action for programmes explicitly targeting Roma can be discerned: education, employment and community-level social integration.

Education aims primarily at desegregation actions (the Czech Republic, Hungary), inter-cultural education, prevention of early school leaving (Bulgaria, Romania, Spain) and bridging the gap between formal schooling and access to the labour market.

Employment focuses primarily on training activities and access to the labour market, labour adaptability, self-employment and in some cases, the promotion of entrepreneurship, including the creation of cooperatives and social community work (Bulgaria, Slovakia). A few employment programmes are targeted at individuals though personalised insertion pathways to the labour market (Romania, Spain) while programmes targeting educational needs tend to focus primarily on systems and communities.

Social integration actions for segregated or excluded villages and neighbourhoods are implemented through system and infrastructural improvements (access to services), the promotion of community level social economy and personal labour insertion pathways. in most cases the focus is on single issue programmes, although integrated approaches are increasingly favoured in countries such as Spain and Romania.

In a number of countries (the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Slovakia), relatively widespread situations of geographical segregation and marginalisation have led to the implementation of integrated actions at the community level. These actions are aimed at achieving inclusion, through the provision of housing and healthcare, as well as education and professional training.

Programmes directly benefiting Romani individuals and communities are often based on the principles of equal opportunities and anti-discrimination, focusing primarily on equal opportunities in the access to quality education and to the labour market (Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Slovakia). These are often accompanied by sensitisation and awareness-raising campaigns, mediation projects (Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain), as well as anti-discrimination measures (Hungary, Romania, Spain) targeting the majority population, such as awareness-raising actions and inter-cultural training, in accordance with the EU’s Anti-Discrimination Directives.9

In some countries – Greece, Finland, Sweden and Italy – Roma are not explicitly mentioned in OPs. In some of these cases, Structural Funds were not planned to be used for projects targeting Roma explicitly because the latter are not defined as an ethnic minority, as in Greece, for example. Although some projects co-financed by the ESF explicitly target Roma (Greece, Italy, Sweden), this does not signify that Roma have not been beneficiaries of these Member States’ respective OPs through programmes targeting vulnerable populations. In information provided later by managing authorities on specific projects, especially in the case of Sweden and Greece, projects have targeted or will target Roma directly at the local level. In the case of Greece, even if Roma are not mentioned in OPs specifically (usually they are included in the reference “groups with cultural differences” and in some cases are explicitly mentioned as Roma, among other groups), calls for tenders are specifically addressed to Roma in actions that concern them. In the case of Spain, integrated actions targeting migrant Romani populations from Eastern European countries are being implemented both at the national and regional levels.

The data shows that the majority of Member States invest indirectly in Roma inclusion and development through improvements in administration and infrastructure, including improvements in the quality of and access to social services. Qualitative enhancements of social services focus on health provision and access to education (Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary) as well as the development of methods to improve employment prospects and the productivity of labour (Italy). In turn, assistance to persons, local communities, enterprises and organisations is provided primarily through education and health services, access to employment – i.e. demand-driven projects for active employment and human capacity-building – and professional training.

Most of the countries that indirectly include Roma in their respective OPs do it by prioritising measures aimed at vulnerable or socially excluded groups. This category usually includes people with disabilities, immigrants, the ageing and women (Finland, Greece, Poland, Sweden). In some cases (Hungary, Greece, Poland), reference is made to special cultural groups or groups with specific cultural needs.

Some of the programmes for which Roma may be indirect beneficiaries have a territorial or regional approach (the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland), developing local integrated or local development initiatives in areas where there is a high concentration of Roma or other socially excluded groups.

Finally, in the case of Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden, an equal opportunities and anti-discrimination principle is the preferred driver for programmes benefiting Roma – as part of groups that are subject to unequal treatment or to discrimination. Combating stereotypes and awareness-raising for the majority population is integral to several OPs. The outcomes and impacts of most aforementioned OPs have not yet been assessed either qualitatively or quantitatively, and EURoma Member States are intensifying their efforts to improve the monitoring and evaluation of programmes, in coordination with the European Commission. Unfortunately, many projects remain characterised by short-term financing (ranging from several months to two years), which significantly undermines their ability to make a difference in the long run, a shortcoming that has been repeatedly highlighted by EURoma. It has also been observed that the haphazard implementation of local projects without a national direction also undermines their ability to affect change.

What are the EURoma proposals for the financial regulations 2014-2020?

There is a general conviction that the impact of existing actions is insufficient and that a widening gap is emerging between planning and implementation. Despite existing efforts, there are few indications that the living conditions of Roma are improving substantially.

Therefore, after an internal debate, members of EURoma agreed in January 2011 on a Position Paper concerning the future Regulations of the Structural Funds.10 This Position Paper aims to make a relevant and informed contribution to the current debate on the new Regulations by making concrete proposals and identifying possible orientations on how, in light of EURoma’s experience, EU financial instruments could have a more effective impact on the living conditions of the Romani population.

The Position Paper is the first step of a broader EURoma agenda of activities to contribute to a more effective use of the Structural Funds for Roma inclusion in next programming period (2014-2020). EURoma will publish a practical guide with operational proposals for OPs planning, management and implementation at the beginning of 2013. The Paper focuses on three main topics: strategic approach; effectiveness; and management, monitoring and control systems.

Strategic Approach

Structural Funds should be fully aligned with the objectives and priorities of the Europe 2020 Strategy: Considering that the Europe 2020 Strategy constitutes the new EU framework for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth over the next decade, the future Regulations should be designed as a key instrument to help deliver the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The Regulations should also reflect the new policy directions of the Europe 2020 Strategy, especially with regards to inclusive growth, and to specific flagship initiatives, such as the Platform against Poverty.

Structural Funds could make a great contribution to achieving the five Europe 2020 targets, three of which are of particular relevance as concerns Roma inclusion: reaching a 75% employment rate; increasing levels of educational attainment by reducing to a maximum of 10% the proportion of early schools leavers and achieving a 40% rate of higher education degree among the younger generation; combating poverty by getting 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and exclusion. These are general objectives covering all EU citizens, but considering that Roma are disproportionately affected by poverty, unemployment and educational failure (especially in the case of Romani women), the Regulations should ensure that Structural Funds explicitly target the Romani population with a view to achieving these objectives.

Social inclusion as a horizontal priority: In accordance with the key priorities of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth established by the Europe 2020 Strategy, social inclusion constitutes one of the EU´s core policy priorities. Accordingly, the contribution of Structural Funds to social inclusion should be reinforced in the future financial framework. The future Regulations, which are intended to achieve a better thematic concentration and establish a limited number of priorities, should be reprioritised by putting social inclusion at the forefront of Cohesion Policy in all EU regions (social exclusion affects equally rich and poor regions). In line with the horizontal social clause of the Lisbon Treaty, social inclusion should then be considered a horizontal priority for all EU funds, not only the ESF.

Structural Funds should tackle the needs of the most disadvantaged groups: Understanding that the Structural Funds are the main EU financial instrument for social cohesion, the future Regulations should make sure that the Structural Funds have a particular focus on those groups affected disproportionately by social exclusion and discrimination, in particular the Romani population. The future Regulations and their implementation should not only have a more inclusive approach, but they should focus particularly on the fight against social inequalities and extreme poverty and achieving equal opportunities for those groups most in need.

“Explicit but not exclusive” targeting of Roma: Evidence proves that general programmes often fail to reach the Romani population. Targeted programmes are necessary whenever special circumstances force specific actions aimed at correcting disadvantages. Given that the Romani population is the most disadvantaged group in terms of poverty, social exclusion and discrimination within the EU, the future Regulations should explicitly refer to targeted actions towards Roma through an “explicit but not exclusive” approach. Principle nº2 of the Common Basic Principles for Roma Inclusion emphasises that programmes and policies which target Roma must not exclude members of other groups who experience similar socioeconomic circumstances.11

Mainstreaming Roma inclusion: Measures undertaken to combat Roma exclusion need to be established within a wider framework of European and national policies and instruments available to mainstream society. The future Regulations should guarantee the mainstreaming of Roma inclusion issues into all relevant policy areas, especially those fields that are key to the active inclusion of Roma (such as employment, education, health, housing, infrastructural or territorial development). The mainstreaming of Roma inclusion is also one of the 10 Common Basic Principles for Roma Inclusion that ought to inform, where appropriate, the design and implementation of policies to promote the full inclusion of the Roma.12 Explicit Roma inclusion targets should be incorporated across all mainstream EU policy areas.

Integrated approach of actions: The complex and interdependent problems affecting the Romani population require integrated responses. The future Regulations should ensure that Structural Funds provide an appropriate framework for integrated and multidimensional actions addressing Roma exclusion. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Regulation already includes such an approach through the amendment of Article 7.2, which now allows for integrated housing interventions for marginalised communities, in particular the Romani population, by introducing the requirement of “integrated approach of actions” as a condition for the allocation of funds.13 The future Regulations should provide the appropriate framework for an integrated approach of actions aiming at Roma inclusion.

Structural Funds should not contribute to segregation: The future Regulations should ensure that interventions financed by Structural Funds promote equal opportunities and tackle segregation. Explicit desegregation measures should be promoted and even considered as a key criterion for the access to Structural Funds. The aforementioned amendment of Article 7.2 of the ERDF Regulation introduced for the first time “desegregation” as a component of an “integrated approach of actions” for the allocation of funds in housing interventions. Regulations should not only ensure that the Structural Funds do not contribute to segregation but also, where possible, actively contribute to desegregation, not only in the field of housing, but also in other areas covered by the Structural Funds, such as education.


Structural Funds should be aligned with national, regional and local policies and resources: Understanding that the synergy of Structural Funds with national policies and strategies (i.e. National Reform Plans, Employment Strategy or National Roma Inclusion Strategies within the EU Framework) contributes to increasing effectiveness, the future Regulations should reinforce the idea of the Structural Funds not only as mere financial instruments but as policy instruments and tools for policy change. Therefore, Regulations should emphasise the need for the Structural Funds to be aligned with national, regional and local policies. Horizontal as well as vertical coordination of managing authorities with different stakeholders should be enhanced by the Regulations.

Structural Funds should not be only considered an opportunity for investing in Roma inclusion but also a tool for designing more effective long-term policies involving different actors in close coordination with national social and employment policies.

Increased involvement of local and regional authorities within a national framework: One of the main challenges when dealing with Roma inclusion is the involvement and commitment of stakeholders at the local level. Local and regional authorities are best positioned to, and are accountable for, providing concrete responses to the needs of Roma. Access to Structural Funds may be restricted in some cases due to lack of political interest from local and regional authorities; in other cases the latter may encounter certain constraints related to complex administrative procedures, co-financing requirements, lack of capacity, etc.

The future Regulations should guarantee and explicitly promote the access of municipalities to the Structural Funds. Providing appropriate support and expertise through technical assistance and capacity-building would facilitate local and regional involvement in the use of the Structural Funds for Roma inclusion, which is an opportunity for combining actions on different levels. Actions implemented concurrently at the national and local levels have been proven to achieve a greater impact. Structural Funds become real policy instruments when actions implemented at the local level have a national strategic design.

Integrated use of EU funds: To tackle the multidimensional challenges of Roma exclusion, interventions should have an intersectoral approach and the allocation of necessary resources, which would require an integrated use of EU Funds. Intensifying the coordination of the ESF, ERDF and European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD)14 will increase effectiveness, facilitate an integrated approach and increase the impact of actions financed by the funds (i.e. by concentrating and focusing on a given territory with specific needs). Regulations should explicitly reinforce the coordination and combined use of EU funds, providing the mechanisms and instruments required for a more effective implementation of programmes and projects.

Long-term approach: As concerns the durability of operations, a long-term approach is a prerequisite for and an opportunity within the framework of the Structural Funds. Real social transformations, especially in the case of Roma social inclusion, can only be achieved over the long-term; therefore, programmes should be planned over the full seven-year period. If the Structural Funds are to achieve real impact and improve the living conditions of the Romani population, the future Regulations should ensure that the implementing mechanisms of OPs fulfil the long-term approach needed for social inclusion interventions financed by Structural Funds.

Reinforcing public/private partnerships: Strong partnerships (in particular with NGOs and local authorities) contribute to a more efficient implementation of actions aimed at Roma inclusion. Regulations should reinforce the partnership principle and make sure that partners are involved at every stage of the process, from programming to evaluation. Active and responsible partnerships require a process of capacity-building within civil society and within local administrations. Technical Assistance together with Global Grants should be promoted as key instruments to consolidate and improve the outcomes of partnerships. Resources should not only be oriented to tackle the needs of Roma, but also to work on systems and institutions dealing with Roma and other vulnerable groups through institutional capacity-building.

Management, Monitoring and Control Systems

Simplification of procedures: The complexity of administrative procedures and cofinancing rules and requirements poses an obstacle to the management of Structural Funds. As already mentioned, local authorities and NGOs should play a more important role in the delivery of Structural Funds; the future Regulations should therefore simplify procedures in order to facilitate the access of those key actors to EU funding.

Refocusing evaluation systems: criteria based on results: Interventions funded by Structural Funds should be measured and evaluated in terms of real impacts rather than mere inputs. Member States, as well as regional and local authorities, should account for the results of investments that use Structural Funds. Regulations should strengthen the effectiveness of interventions financed by Structural Funds by establishing standard evaluation criteria based on impact and results, not only on fulfilment of financial control mechanisms. These criteria should allow for mid-term, as well as final, evaluations to measure progress made and impact on target groups. Structural Funds indicators should be in line with those used to achieve the Europe 2020 Strategy measuring social inclusion outcomes.

Increasing the monitoring role of the European Commission: Regulations should reinforce the monitoring role of the European Commission not only during the management and control procedures, but also at the level of evaluation of impact and results of interventions financed by Structural Funds. The future Regulations should endow the Commission with the responsibility of monitoring the extent to which Structural Funds intended to reach the Romani population actually reach them on the ground in Member States. Technical Assistance should be considered a valuable tool to achieve this objective.

Roma inclusion and Roma involvement in the Monitoring Committees: The future Regulations should enhance the role of the Monitoring Committees to assess the impact of actions co-financed by Structural Funds on Roma inclusion, inviting Member States to report on the progress made to improve Roma social inclusion. The participation of civil society, and in particular Roma participation, in Monitoring Committees should be enhanced in the future Regulations.

EC legislative proposal for Cohesion Policy and financial instruments 2014 – 2020

At the beginning of October 2011, the European Commission presented a legislative package setting the rules which will determine how the Union’s Cohesion Policy and its financial instruments, including the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, will work during the 2014-2020 period. In its planning for the 2014-2020 financial framework, the European Commission proposes to allocate 376 billion EUR to this policy, which represents the main investment area for the EU for the seven-year period.

This regulation scheme is designed to reinforce the strategic dimension of the policy and to ensure that EU investment is targeted at Europe’s long-term goals for growth and jobs in the 2020 Strategy. Social inclusion, the fight against poverty and exclusion and social aspects in general are clearly reinforced in the new proposals. In fact, it clearly provides support to measures to promote equal opportunities between women and men and to combat discrimination, with particular attention to groups such as Roma.

The main new elements that are introduced in this proposal are a) geographical coverage, identifying three regions depending on GDP per capita, b) promoting better coordination of various EU actions (including the possibility of multi-fund programmes), c) fostering a limited number of investment priorities and setting concrete objectives, d) paying more attention to monitoring, evaluation and results, and also e) promoting management simplification and partnerships for effective implementation.

This proposal is much more concentrated on a limited number of investment priorities closely linked to Europe 2020 priorities: employment, growth and territorial cooperation. The European Commission also proposes 11 thematic objectives, some of them of direct relevance for the integration of the Romani community. Furthermore, it establishes that at least 20% of the total ESF resources in each Member State shall be allocated to the thematic objective “promoting social inclusion and combating poverty” of the general regulation, compared to the average of 13% that can be observed currently. This is a milestone as it is the first time that there is a quantified target related to poverty.

The abovementioned proposal has been presented by the EC last October and a process of negotiation between the Parliament and the Council will follow during 2012 and 2013, with a view to its adoption by 2013 to allow for the start of a new generation of cohesion policy programmes in 2014. The final allocations by Member State, and lists of eligible regions by category, will only be decided after the final adoption of the package currently being discussed.

In the meantime, EURoma will continue contributing to the process at all levels, working to ensure that excluded groups, such as the Romani population, are included in the objectives of the Cohesion Policy.


The current economic situation undermines the effective implementation of programmes aimed at Roma integration and the reduction of inequalities. The key pillars of integration - labour markets and general economic vitality, territorial cohesion and the investments by Member States in the provision of public services such as education, healthcare as well as housing - are currently facing pressure from all sides.

However, there is room for some hope. In the past years, European institutions have included Roma issues on their political agenda and initiated various actions in different policy areas with an understanding that Roma issues are EU-wide issues that need to be tackled concurrently and through a shared responsibility of the EU institutions, Member States and the lower levels of the public administration in those fields related to their respective competences. As such, Member States’ primary responsibility in implementing Roma integration policies will only achieve long-lasting results if their national strategies and approaches are developed within a European framework. EURoma has been playing a key role in helping EU institutions and Member States to build a common European approach to Roma inclusion, under the Structural Funds but also beyond them, by engaging other stakeholders in the context of the Open Method of Coordination (OMC). The momentum for the further development of medium and long-term strategies and policies with Roma in the EU must be sustained at all cost. EURoma will pull its weight to support the achievement of such a long-term European framework and, therefore, the broader objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy.


  1. Fundación Secretariado Gitano acts as the EURoma Network’s Technical Secretariat.
  2. Structural Funds are the main EU financial and political instruments at the disposal of Member States in designing and implementing policies aimed at enhancing social cohesion and reducing inequalities within the EU. Structural Funds are therefore a particularly relevant means of bridging the gap between the majority population and the Roma minority.
  3. For detailed information on the targets, instruments and respective competencies of all actors involved in the Europe 2020 Strategy, see the European Commission’s website on the Europe 2020 Strategy.
  4. European Council, Council conclusions on an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020, 3089th Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council meeting, Brussels, 19 May 2011, para. 25, available here.
  5. European Council, Council conclusions on an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020, 3089th Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council meeting, Brussels, 19 May 2011, para. 25, available here.
  6. European Network on Social Inclusion and Roma under the Structural Funds, available here.
  7. EURoma, Roma and the Structural Funds (April 2010), available here.
  8. EURoma, Roma and the Structural Funds.
  9. European Council Directive 2000/43/EC implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin (29 June 2000), available hereCouncil Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation (27 November 2000), available here.
  10. EURoma, Proposals on the future regulations of the Structural Funds (2014-2020) (2011), available here.
  11. Council of the European Union, Common Basic Principles on Roma Inclusion, press release, 8 June 2009, available here.
  12. Council of the European Union, Common Basic Principles.
  13. European Parliament and European Council, Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1080/2006 on the European Regional Development Fund as regards the eligibility of housing interventions in favour of marginalised communities, PE-CONS 6/10,§6, (Brussels, 24 March 2010), available here.
  14. The EAFRD aims to strengthen the EU’s rural development policy and simplify its implementation. It is particularly relevant to isolated rural Romani communities, especially if used in combination with integrated housing interventions in rural environments, as mandated by the amended ERDF regulations. Europa, “European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development”, 28 August 2009, available here.

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