The Catalan Roma Plan: Lessons for Europe?

People looking at the lineup the Virtual Museum of Catalan Roma
Visitors at a conference to launch the Virtual Museum of Roma in Catalonia (Miquel Jornet - Xarxa Punt TIC)

BARCELONA, Spain – 14 April 2013 – The successful social inclusion of the Roma of Catalonia is generally viewed as worth emulating in Central and Eastern Europe, where Roma are also a significant minority.

 

The Catalan Comprehensive Roma Plan (PIPG) is believed to have contributed to the growing employment rates, increasing participation in compulsory education and a significant improvement in housing conditions of the Catalan Roma population – commonly referred to as the Gitano.

 

Some, however, claim that it is the universal character of the Spanish social protection system that has benefited the Roma's social inclusion, rather than the PIPG. Others argue that improvements are due to the Spanish government’s pragmatic approach, focusing on measures to reduce inequalities and improve living conditions in general, rather than on minority rights or political participation advocated by the PIPG.

 

The evaluation results

None of these arguments are backed by empirically-informed impact-focused evaluations. Motivated by Catalan Roma civil society’s concern with respect to the limited results and impacts of the Roma-targeted public policies, the Federation of Roma Associations in Catalonia (FAGiC) together with the EMIGRA research group (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) carried out an evaluation focusing on the design, implementation and outcomes of the PIPG.

 

Roma participation is a key concept, both in the design and operation of the PIPG. While there are high levels of Roma participation in organs created within the PIPG, such as working groups or the advisory board, the quality of that participation is strongly questionable. Roma participants are delegated almost exclusively by Roma and pro-Roma associations, which not only impedes the direct participation of the majority of the Roma population, but strongly limits the diversity of participating Roma, along variables such as age, sex, socioeconomic situation or academic and professional background.

 

What is more, there are no signs of fundamental changes in unequal power relations between public administration and Roma representatives, as  participation is limited to consultation processes rather than connected to decision-making mechanisms. The PIPG has explicitly fostered Roma empowerment through ethnic-based participation models and, to a much lesser extent, through mainstream categories or issue-driven movements, platforms or initiatives. The efficiency of this approach has not been empirically contrasted with other forms of civic and political participation.

 

Reflecting a diversity of Roma voices?

Representativeness is intrinsically related to participation, as long as it is designed through formal structures. The PIPG claims to provide for a diversity of Roma ‘voices’, rather than to strive for wide representativeness.

 

However, two relevant questions remain: first, whether all voices are channelled into decision-making through participation mechanisms, and, second, whether ‘diversity of voices’ represents the existing ‘diversity of interests’ within the Catalan Roma population. Unfortunately, research does not allow us to identify clear-cut mechanisms that may enhance the accountability and transparency of participating Roma organisations with regard to ‘their’ local or grassroots Roma communities.

 

A comprehensive approach is one of the unquestionable contributions of the PIPG.  An interdepartmental commission has been created for the integrated treatment of the plan's measures, and communication among different levels of the public administrations and non-governmental organisations has been promoted. Challenges are still present, however, in terms of working methodology, and difficulties in coordination have resulted in the radical reduction of interdepartmental commitment in the second edition of the PIPG.

 

Key objectives not yet achieved

The original aim of the PIPG was to trigger a change in public policies targeting Roma, from the provision of welfare services to a process of empowerment, through participation and institutional recognition. Research identified individual empowerment processes channelled through PIPG organs, structures and measures. However, no convincing evidence could be found that these individual experiences can be transposed onto a collective empowerment process.

 

Despite significant efforts, the most relevant objectives of the PIPG have not been achieved in the past seven years. Nevertheless, the process has offered both administration and civil society actors a significant learning experience and raised the following points:

 

-  Problems with working methodology and coordination need to be resolved in order to involve NGOs who have a long commitment to local Roma communities;

-  Clear-cut mechanisms that enhance the accountability and transparency of participating Roma organisations with regard to ‘their’ local or grassroots Roma communities are needed, in order to increase levels of public satisfaction with respect to the PIPG;

-  Significant efforts need to be made in the areas of capacity-building, advocacy training, network building and skills development;

-  If the original objectives of the PIPG are to remain feasible it is necessary to clearly differentiate between comprehensive and parallel sectorial actions.

 

We believe that an external evaluation can provide guidelines so that the third phase of the PIPG in 2013 can be more firmly based on one common goal: equality and social cohesion in European societies.

 

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