After at least two years of lockdown restrictions, the European Platform for Roma Inclusion (EPRI) was finally back again this year in physical form. As part of the agenda of the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union, it was also paired with the meeting of the National Roma Contact Points (NRCPs). This Platform was the 15th rendition of a yearly event meant to foster dialogue between stakeholders in Roma inclusion.
From the 25th until the 26th of October, EPRI participants could listen to and engage in two panel discussions and attend two workshops. On the 27th October, for the first time, a small group of Roma and pro-Roma civil society organisations could attend and participate in the meeting of the NRCPs. On behalf of EPHA’s Roma Health Network, I attended the 15th EPRI with our Network members of Cairde Ireland, ACEC Slovakia and the University of Debrecen Hungary. At the NRCP meeting the next day, I represented the Network on my own.
The panels on the first day focused on ways forward in Roma inclusion in the European Union and the accession countries, and about Roma in the context of the war in Ukraine. The workshops on segregation and funding on the second day allowed for more interaction and were quite thought-provoking, resulting in recommendations on how to tackle segregation and facilitate funding. It is hoped that the ideas of the panels and workshops will be picked up by the Commission for its recommendations to the member states due at the end of this year.
The NRCP meeting on the third day had a promising premise, as it allowed for an exchange between national representatives and civil society in a Council meeting for the first time. After two rounds of presentations on antigypsyism and Roma political empowerment respectively, a group of civil society organisations shared statements, inviting the Commission and the member states to stay closely involved with Roma civil society. This is to come to joint solutions, but more importantly to increase Roma participation.
For Roma and pro-Roma civil society, the place at the table was perhaps the most central question. Did the 15th EPRI allow for the Roma voice to be heard? Despite efforts, strategies, promises and plans at the European level, Roma at the local level still do not see the necessary progress. This could be partially explained by a lack of exchange with Roma civil society.
With civil society being present at the NRCP meeting for the first time, an important step is taken towards a more inclusive dialogue with Roma civil society. Roma participation is a crucial part of Roma inclusion, and though participation was limited, at least the ball is now rolling. Hopefully, this trend will continue, allowing for a closer, deeper and more meaningful exchange between all stakeholders. If this will be the case, the Roma Health Network stands ready to contribute with its expertise to Roma healthcare access and health outcomes.