Following an organized set of events in Brussels from 23rd to 30th March called Roma week, the European Parliament had a debate session on April 6, in honor of International Roma Day. Apart from the busy agenda, Roma squeezed in early for a briefing about the situation in Europe. The plenary was moderated by one of the vice-presidents of the European Parliament, Evelyne Gebhardt. The participation on the debate was covered by all of the political groups in the Parliament.
The session started with assessment of the situation of Roma, highlighting the continuation of the EU Roma Framework 2020 and the most alarming issues which included a focus on employment, education, housing and antigypsyism. All of the representatives had encouraging and committing speeches showing support and readiness to advance the situation of Roma in Europe without any specific or targeted actions. However, Soraya Post, a member from the S&D of Romani origin, had recommendations urging specific Commissioners from different DGs to establish a team for non-discriminatory funds and programs due to the failure in inclusion of Roma in Europe. She also added that the consultation with Roma representatives and NGOs is crucial in implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the projects. She also stressed the importance of recognizing August 2 at the national level for commemorating Roma victims in the Holocaust.
After a series of positive accounts, the first to throw down the gauntlet was the representative from the EFDD. Tim Aker, from the UKIP, in 2 minutes blatantly attacked the EU for supporting the migration of Roma to the UK which he claims brought nothing but poverty to the country. Counter arguments underlined that Roma are a contributing part of European societies and that the EP should remain a platform to discuss their issues. Tim Aker blamed the translation of his arguments claiming that he represents concerned British citizens and expressed his gratitude for Brexit.
For a bigger chaos, Maria Bizzotto from the ENF group caught the spotlight of the debate. Firstly she paid respect to victims of the Second World War and then accused the EU for wasting millions of euros to integrate Roma. She vociferously claimed that Roma do not want to integrate and the money should be spent on as she puts it “our citizens, our unemployed people, our poor families”. In addition, she used Italy as an example to generalize and vilify Roma causing additional problems to Italian citizens. In the end, denying any racism on her part, she denounced the importance of the day and claimed that this should be a day to commemorate other citizens who suffer from problems caused by Roma. This speech provoked an avalanche of reactions from other representatives. All of the MEPs targeted the country and the party’s commitment and role to support Roma. Avoiding a direct response to the questions, she claimed in Italy funds for Roma inclusion do not work. She also claimed that there are both legal and illegal Roma children undernourished and badly dressed, while their parents allegedly drive expensive cars that according to her opinion are bought with EU funds. She also added that Roma children do not want pursue education attacking the parents that they force their children to beg and steal as reported on the newspapers.
In the end, Angelo Ciocca from the same political party, used the same discourse. He pointed out that the important issues are left out and instead the representatives are debating about fake victims. He also emphasized that in Italy every 2 minutes there is a burglary case questioning how Roma earn money and own expensive cars. Duly noted by the moderator, there was no room for additional counter arguments to Ciocca’s speech. However, the debate continued with representatives showing support for inclusion initiatives for Roma.
So are we yet again in a situation where we remain oblivious to a discourse that hinders prosperity? In times of trending nationalistic sentiments and far-right parties blooming at national level, the European Parliament has to sustain the credibility of a democratic institution respecting the core values and principles of the Union. After the debate, when Korwin-Mikke discriminated women at the EP, it was reported that Korwin-Mikke was sanctioned. Apart from the suspension and the loss of his wages, he was banned from representing the Parliament and parliamentary bodies for a year. This move was saluted by MEPs, citizens and institutions. People were once again hopeful as a result of European institutions finally acting instead of just kindly recommending. Consequently, Maria Bizzotto and Angelo Ciocca are the next suspects to be suspended. But will the Parliament use the same remedies to cure this sick narrative or not? Will this be forgotten because the debate did not go viral enough on social media to create pressure on the institution? Better yet, will the European Parliament show authority or will it use double standards and let this pass? On a positive note, there is an online petition condemning the speech. While Soraya Post urged the vice-president to address the case to the bureau to sanction the discriminatory claims from the representatives of the ENF.