MG-S-ROM – Council of Europe Group of Specialists on Roma, Gypsies and Travellers: 10 years Experience Behind and New Challenges Ahead

06 November 2006

MG-S-ROM – Council of Europe Group of Specialists on Roma, Gypsies and Travellers1: 10 years Experience Behind and New Challenges Ahead

Michaël Guet2

The decision to set up a Specialist Group on Roma and Gypsies was taken by the Committee of Ministers in September 1995. This Group was the first Council of Europe (CoE) body responsible for reviewing the situation of Roma in Europe on a regular basis. It is still the only inter-governmental body dealing exclusively with issues related to Roma and Travellers in Europe.

Made up of Roma and non-Roma, appointed by permanent3 and non-permanent4 member states, it advises the Committee of Ministers, through its steering committee, the European Committee on Migration (CDMG), on issues relating to Roma and Travellers. In 2002, the MGS- ROM expanded its areas of responsibility to include Travellers and was given a new name, the Group of Specialists on Roma, Gypsies and Travellers.

The Group also plays the role of "catalyst" for other sectors of the Council of Europe, by encouraging and stimulating activities already under way and promoting new initiatives if the need arises. It can also carry out specific studies or other activities in accordance with decisions of the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly or the CDMG.

The Group owes its origin to the enthusiasm and dedication of a Dutch parliamentarian, Josephine Verspaget, who in 1993 proposed, in CoE Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1203, "the creation of a group to study issues concerning the Roma and propose solutions for the improvement of their living conditions". Thanks to her, to Andrzej Mirga who succeeded Mrs. Verspaget as Chair, and to the other members of the Group, a long distance has been covered; a long road made up of 10 years of efforts, persistency and results.

Mrs. Verspaget summed up these 10 years of activity as follows: "In these 10 years we succeeded to put the Roma cause high on the international agenda, not only on the agenda of Governments and European bodies, especially the CoE as a whole, the EU bodies and the OSCE, but also on the agenda of global organisations such as UNHCR, World Bank, ILO and UNDP."

The year 2006 is full of significant anniversaries. The Project on Ethnic Relations (PER) has just celebrated its 15 anniversary. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), like MGS- ROM, is 10 years old. These anniversaries all point to the upsurge of activity in the 1990s putting Romani issues on the national and international agenda.

"The MG-S-ROM has played a significant part in sustaining that activity. It has provided a focus for Roma and Traveller issues at the heart of the Council of Europe, for example by providing expert advice and opinions5 to the Committee of Ministers. Its recommendations6 have assisted governments and public bodies to develop legislation, policies and strategies to address Roma and Traveller issues – often for the first time. And its fact-finding missions, such as those to Bosnia and Kosovo, have helped to highlight the interests of Roma minorities in these areas and ensure that they are not ignored", said the current Chair, Mr. Ian Naysmith (United Kingdom) on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the MG-S-ROM celebrated in Bucharest, Romania, from 2-3 May 2006.

The MG-S-ROM meets twice a year: usually once in Strasbourg and once in another member state.7 In the latter case it has the opportunity to conduct a public hearing with relevant local and state actors, as well as conducting field visits, thus providing grassroot contacts and information, which are essential for its normative work.

As for the future, cooperation with the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), an independent non-governmental organisation that represents Roma and Travellers from all over Europe and that signed a partnership agreement with the Council of Europe in December 2004, will become increasingly important now that the ERTF internal structures are progressively being put in place. However, the MG-S-ROM will continue consulting independent Roma and non-Roma experts, as well as inviting other international organisations playing a key role in defending and promoting the rights of Roma in Europe, such as the European Roma Information Office (ERIO), the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), the Open Society Institute (OSI) or the Project on Ethnic Relations (PER).

Looking at the immediate future, the MG-SROM is currently discussing a new Recommendation on policies for Roma and Travellers in Europe. The idea is to determine standards for national policies on Roma and Travellers, to improve the implementation of adopted strategies and to provide clear guidelines on monitoring and evaluation.

This instrument will be extremely important for countries where a national strategy is absent or where, for example, Roma and Travellers are not recognised as a national minority. At the same time, the proposed standards in monitoring and evaluation will be useful in order to improve the impact of national strategies that already exist in about 20 countries.

One of the main challenges of the MG-S-ROM in the years to come is to ensure that the policies and recommendations adopted are effectively implemented, in partnership with Roma and Travellers. Its new mandate, adopted on 13 July 2006, is therefore turned towards the implementation, rather than elaboration, of standards in this field.

The MG-S-ROM aims to become a committee where all governments, having adopted national strategies for Roma and Travellers, can meet to exchange examples of good practice and learn lessons from each other's experiences, but also to hear from the ERTF and other organisations what still needs to be improved. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Ireland, Moldova, Norway and Sweden have indicated an interest in becoming permanent members of the MG-S-ROM. Other countries, especially those that already have a national strategy, like Lithuania or "The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", or those about to adopt one, like Montenegro and Serbia, will be invited to join the Committee.

The MG-S-ROM will keep itself informed about progress made in regional initiatives, such as the Decade for Roma Inclusion (2005-2015), and seek to avoid duplication of work.

The MG-S-ROM will also address more directly anti-Gypsyism in CoE member states. The "DOSTA awareness-raising campaign: there is nothing scary about Roma but your prejudices8" already carried out in the Balkans in the framework of a joint European Commission/Council of Europe programme, might be extended to other countries, and a CoE recommendation specifically addressing anti-Gypsyism may be promoted.

A lot has been achieved over the last decade and good co-operation has been established with a large number of governments and with a growing number of Roma and Traveller NGOs, but there is a need to pursue common efforts to overcome the systemic exclusion of numerous Roma and Travellers in today's Europe, and the MG-S-ROM is ready to contribute – at its level – to these efforts.

Endnotes:

  1. New name of the MG-S-ROM as of 13 July 2006.
  2. Michaël Guet is Secretary of the MG-S-ROM.
  3. Permanent members are: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain and Ukraine.
  4. The following member states send experts on a regular basis: France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
  5. The MG-S-ROM prepared opinions inter alia on the creation of a European Roma and Travellers Forum (2003), on the forced returns of Roma to Serbia and Montenegro, including Kosovo (2004) and on the situation of Roma in Kosovo (2006).
  6. Until now, the MG-S-ROM has prepared five Recommendations, later approved by the Committee of Ministers: Education - Recommendation (2000)4;
    Economic conditions and employment ? Recommendation (2001)17;
    Movement and encampment of Travellers ? Recommendation (2004)14;
    Housing conditions ? Recommendation (2005)4;
    Access to health care ? Recommendation (2006)10.
  7. Hosting countries to date have been: Romania (1997), Czech Republic (1998), Bulgaria (1999), Hungary (2000), Finland (2001), Ireland (2002), Slovakia (2004), and Romania (2006).
  8. For more information on the DOSTA campaign, visit www.dosta.org.

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