In the latest Atlantic Council Issue Brief, “Roma Inclusion: A Call for Central European Leadership,” Susan Ball, a State Department Senior Fellow in the International Security Program, highlights the growing urgency of the challenge to integrate Europe’s Roma populations and makes the case for Central European states to play a leadership role in Europe’s efforts to combat Roma exclusion.

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Although the plight of Europe’s 10-12 million strong Roma population rarely captures headlines, living conditions for many European Roma are abysmal. Sub-standard and often segregated education, pervasive unemployment and widespread discrimination against Roma have fostered deep and growing disparities between Europe’s Roma and non-Roma populations. For too long this reality has been ignored, or perhaps overshadowed, by more urgent challenges. Increases in ethnically-motivated violence against Roma, combined with recent demographic and economic studies suggest that European states – particularly those with significant Roma populations — are placing at risk their broader economic and social well-being if they fail to act decisively to address Roma exclusion. And while the controversies sparked by the expulsion of Roma from France and their treatment in Italy demonstrates clearly the Europe-wide implications of the problem, its consequences are sharpest and most visible in post-communist Europe, where the bulk of Europe’s Roma lives.

The author argues that this reality can serve as an impetus for Central European leadership and regional cooperation, and provides concrete policy suggestions to that end. Indeed, Hungary has made Roma inclusion a top priority of its EU Presidency. This is an important first step, and the U.S. should encourage a continued focus on Roma issues, both in Brussels and in European capitals, as well as consider ways to strengthen the dialogue and exchange of lessons learned in the ongoing struggle to ensure equal rights and opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Under the auspices of the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Relations Program, the Council has organized a series of events aimed at raising awareness of one of Europe’s most compelling challenges: the integration of Europe’s Roma population. The most recent of these took place on February 14, when the Council hosted Hungary’s State Secretary for Social Inclusion, Zoltan Balog, for a discussion with Washington policymakers, NGO representatives, diplomats and scholars on how Hungary is using its EU presidency to advance national and Europe-wide progress on Roma inclusion. Given the history of the U.S. civil rights movement and ongoing efforts to promote equality of opportunity for all citizens, U.S. experience could be a resource upon which Europe might draw. The implications for continued Roma exclusion, some of which are laid out in this brief, make clear why the United States has a stake in Europe’s success, and why this issue should be firmly anchored in the transatlantic dialogue.

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