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European Economic Interest Grouping

Founded under Articles of Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2137/85
Regulation 9 of the European Economic Interest Grouping Regulations 1989
Registered in the United Kingdom Number GE 168


web site: http://www.eu-romani.org
email: info@eu-romani.org

Nino Gemelli
Chairman - Committee on Petitions European Parliament
Schuman Building - L-2929 Luxembourg

FAX: 0032 2 284 9732

15th March 2004
Petition 239/2003

Dear Mr. Gemelli,

Subject: Reply to the Commission

We received the Notice to Members containing the Commission's reply on 13th March, 2004. This is so wide ranging that it risks redirecting the emphasis of the exchanges in spite of the fact that the Commission's summary of the Petition's content is extremely clear.

We therefore present, below our signature, our comments on the Commission's reply within the Commission's original text so as to maintain the context of our comments.

For and on behalf of
ECRE - European Committee on Romani Emancipation
Hector McNeill
Member of Management Committee
European Committee on Romani Emancipation

Commission reply of 13 November 2003 interspersed with associated comments by the European Committee on Romani Emancipation (ECRE) of 15 March 2004.

The petitioner, representing the European Committee on Romani Emancipation (ECRE) formulates several accusations against the Governments of the Republic of Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic and the local authorities of these countries. These accusations are set out in a report, which is attached to the petition. According to the report local authorities in these countries, direct Roma children to special schools in order to maximise financial transfers from the central budget and subsequently use these funds for purposes other than the education of Roma children. In particular the petitioner affirms that:
  • A substantial quantity of financial resources destined for education and training have been diverted into illicit use and, as a consequence, individuals of Roma origin will not receive adequate education
  • Such individuals are excluded from adequate education on the sole basis of their ethnic origin
The petitioner consider that the current state of affairs in the three above countries constitutes an abuse of human rights, which contravenes Art 13 of the Treaty of Rome and that the Commission should cease any pre-accession funding until the Special School system is done away with.

The Commission has the following remarks on the petition:

Commission statement: 1.

The Commission notes that the text of the report, which is currently being posted on the petitioner's web-site, has been updated on 18 March 2003, eighteen days after the submission of the petition. The latest version is significantly different from the one attached to the petition. In particular paragraphs 70, 71, 72, 76, 77, 78, 80, 144, 146 have been deleted and paragraphs 69, 83, 111, 142 modified. All these paragraphs included allegations concerning "illicit" use of funds. As the petitioner recognizes in the revised report "…the range of allegations is too wide for ECRE to either investigate further or make a previous judgement about their veracity".

ECRE comment:

ECRE removed individual and detailed allegations on the destination of funds because these were detracting from the central issue of state sponsored discriminatory treatment of Roma children. ECRE has however never withdrawn from its position that there is an illicit diversion of funds from the support of special school children (explained in more detail below).

It is worth mentioning that the first reference we saw relating to this issue and which caused us to begin to investigate was a comment in a report saying that there was a problem associated with the use of such funds written by the Hungarian Ombudsman for Ethnic Minorities in 1999.

Commission statement 2a.

The petitioner sent the report to the Commission on March 6, 2003. Following this information, Commission officials had several contacts with the petitioner including a meeting on April 2, 2003. In this context the Commission had underlined, on request of the petitioner, the points of the reports where the issues were not thoroughly investigated and where the conclusions appeared hastily drawn.

ECRE comment:

It is indeed the case that at our invitation the Commission sent in some editorial observations but the only area where they referred to hastily drawn conclusions was on the aspect of where funds were being diverted to and their scale.

Commission statement 2b

The Commission also facilitated a meeting between the petitioner and the Commissioner for Roma issues in the Hungarian Ministry of Education. Following these contacts the petitioner agreed that the report needed to be further revised to better reflect the facts. However, as of today this was not done.

ECRE comment

The Commission did also, as stated, facilitate a meeting with a member of a group from Hungary who were coincidentally in Brussels at the time of Mr. McNeill's visit. One of these people was the Commissioner for Roma issues at the Hungarian Ministry of Education.

It is worth stating that she considered most of the content of the report to reflect the facts and asked several questions as to how we achieved these results. She also showed some government statistics which showed the ECRE estimates to be accurate (that is number of children and funding levels) during the whole period studied. However there was a discrepancy between ECRE estimates and Ministry of Education statistics on the numbers of children in special schools in the years 2000-2003. The ECRE low estimate was 56,000 whereas the true figure was closer to just less than 50,000. However she agreed that our post 1989 growth figures, resulting from state financial incentives, agreed with the statistics she had on hand.

ECRE has recorded these changes under the reports section on the ECRE web site. It is important to emphasize that these statistical issues do not alter fact that what we see is a large state-sponsored system racial discrimination in education in contravention of European law.

Commission statement 2c

Moreover, since then, the petitioner has published on his website defamatory posters and articles which are offensive of the European Institutions, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission.

ECRE Comment

It is not clear what articles are referred to. There are daily, in the paper and online media articles which, no doubt, the Commission considers to be defamatory. Reference is however made to posters and it could be the Commission is referring to the posters associated with an ongoing international campaign to close the Special Schools. They were moved from the ECRE web site some time ago and are carried by several international online media. The Commission response says they are defamatory. As far as we are aware the only one which refers to the European institutions mentioned is a political poster which reflects the reality that special schools were first launched under the Third Reich to segregate Roma and Jewish children and provide no useful education. The post-war Soviet regime carried them on but only for a small population of mentally deficient children. It was only in 1989 when the "old regime" collapsed that the new so-called democratic governments significantly increased incentive funding and converted the schools back into their Nazi function of segregating Roma children and denying any useful education; this situation continues today.

One of the more obvious political insensitivities of the European institutions is the fact that the perception of the special schools as neo-Nazi institutions is widespread amongst the communities affected by them. They are constant reminders of a fearful and oppressive period during the second world war when Nazi occupation or Nazi-sympathetic regimes existed. However the governments concerned remain insensitive to this issue and continue to ramp up number of Roma children within them with the objective of achieving segregation and educational denial. The European institutions, including the European parliament, remain completely insensitive to what these special schools represent and oblivious of the negative political image associated with these institutions. This in itself is a very serious political issue.

Now because the European Commission failed to report the true nature and extent of this state managed system in its regular reports and to the European Council, European Parliaments and the public, these assemblies went ahead with their accession votes without the issue of special schools ever being discussed. So we have a situation where knowingly, or not, these European assemblies have endorsed these neo-Nazi systems since they continue to function as a means of segregating Roma children and denying them education.

One poster represents this ongoing political situation with a picture of Hitler, a picture of Stalin and the words "Thank you European Parliament and Thank you European Council and Thank you European Commission for endorsing our policies!!! Long live Corporate Statism !! Long live Fascism!! Long live the Special Schools!! All children are Europe's future!!! As long as the European Parliament and Council stand by and fail to take urgent action by asking the European Commission to demand that these governments observe the Madrid conditions, then the broad perception will remain one of endorsement of what constitutes a horrific reminder of the Nazi period for the people affected. This continues to be the case even although as a result of the European Commission's failure to explain the facts the Council and the Parliament did not know of the true nature of the special school system. This, amongst others, was a motivation for ECRE sending the Petition to bring the true facts to the notice of the Parliament so as enable them to act.

If by any chance any of these posters does not reflect a true state of affairs then the Commission has had ample opportunity, and the right under law, to raise this issue; the Commission has never done so but has restricted itself to unclear and insinuating comments such as those written above.

Commission statement 3a:

The first Commission observation concerns the geographical coverage of the report. The Commission considers it to be not very sound to draw conclusions regarding the situation in the Czech and Slovak Republic simply on the basis of fieldwork that appears to have been done mostly in Hungary.

ECRE comment:

This statement is entirely without foundation given that we clearly qualified the basis of data collection in the following terms: "The best data series were built up from Hungarian sources and the main statistical series represent the results for Hungary. However, we also gained useful insights on parallel processes evolving in the Czech republic and the Slovak republic. As a result of this information we provide summarized information for these two countries. This information is compatible with the Hungarian data and therefore provides a basis for comparison of the aggregate figures. All figures, for comparison terms, are quoted in Euro-equivalent at 1st Quarter 2003 exchange rates."

Commission statement 3b:

In particular, the system of per-capita normative financing of education, which is the basis of the alleged irregularities, is not applied in the same way in the three concerned countries. Unlike Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics local authorities do not appear to have the freedom to utilize funds allocated to special schools for other purposes.

ECRE comment:

As stated we produced aggregate figures only for the Czech republic and Slovakia. This reference to Hungary's "freedom to use funds allocated for other purposes" is entirely irrelevant to this form of calculation.

We must however note that after 14 years operations within these countries the Commission cannot be more clear and specific on the points it raises. Indeed, a major reason that ECRE, an entirely voluntary organization, was driven to undertake this field work was because of the realization that the European Commission had failed to generate any useful statistics or accurate reports on the true situation of the Roma and has continued to do so since our first contact with them on this matter in 1999.

Even today the Commission's population estimates for Roma are several years out of date and generally wide of the mark. It is therefore somewhat ironic that the Commission should feel it has any basis to criticize our stated approach, and which proved to be successful and on something which should have been undertaken by the Commission themselves a long time ago

Commission statement 4a.

Secondly, in Hungary the current budgetary framework does not per se oblige local government to spend funds for the same purposes for which they receive them from central budget. This provides to the local communities some budgetary flexibility and may lead to more or less expenditure in a certain area in accordance with the specific needs of the local community. In that context the fact that not all the funds transferred for special schools are spent for that purpose is legal and does not necessarily imply illicit use.

ECRE comment:

This unfortunately is not the case. Normative funding can be reallocated after it has been transferred in those cases where the local authority has not acted to create a demand or need for the funds in the activities previously requested. In the case of the special schools children have been physically segregated from normal school provisions. This means the local authority has created a demand or need for compensatory education to ensure the children accompany or catch up with normal school children. This is not done, the rest of the funds are spent of other things. This is illicit because the removal of the funds creates a situation in which the children are condemned to segregation for the rest of their school life as a direct result of being unable to transfer back into the normal system for fault of any useful instruction. This is against the law. In other words the diversion of funds and failure to provide compensatory instruction is the prime driving force in sustaining the status of illegality (discrimination in educational provisions).

Commission statement 4b

It should also be noted that contrary to what the petitioner indicates, special schools have annual budgets documenting the amount of resources received and their use.

ECRE comment

This is a complete misrepresentation since we state in our report: " The management of local authority books surrounding the Special school transfers is quite elaborate. There are normally two sets of documents. One from the Ministry of Finance setting out what has been agreed in terms of budget transfers. The other is the local authority budget plan. In the cases of large towns there are some differences in that documents reflect their previous negotiations. In the case of most smaller communities and villages the Ministry document is considered to be "normative" providing the allocations to be followed. The transfers are split into several budget lines within the local authority books. There are multiple cross-references to payments for extra work and duties within the school functions but none of these are significant. The impression given is that there are literally hundreds of activities which under normal circumstances one might expect to absorb the Special school funding; they do not do this. Each budget line however, is so reduced in value that the uninitiated would not notice anything unusual. It therefore is not immediately apparent that a massive block of money is flowing through this system."

Commission statement 4c:

In view of that, drawing the conclusion that all the money not spent for teachers' salaries is not used for the special schools and education and, more so, that "because of the financial greed, politicians, educational officers and others have taken illicit funds", seems far-fetched and unsubstantiated.

ECRE comment:

We have seen budget sheets where if one adds up all of the "supplemental" salaries attributable to each individual teacher, some end up with salaries exceeding that of the Hungarian Prime Minister. These accounts are all pro-forma and have the effect of "losing the money" in the accounts. As a result of tenders and cash payments, in a sort of EuroStat style, it is possible to do just about anything with the money as long as the auditors stay at a safe distance; which for the last 14 years they have.

Commission statement 5a.

Thirdly the Commission finds it striking that the petitioner does not appear to have even made the attempt to officially confront the authorities of the countries concerned and in particular Hungary, with the findings of the report before making public the final conclusions.

ECRE comment

Since December 1995 the European Commission has been charged with the responsibility by the Madrid European Council to ensure that accession countries create the conditions for their integration through the adjustment of its administrative structures. In other words besides transposing European Community legislation into national legislation, it is even more important that the legislation is implemented effectively through appropriate administrative and judicial structures. This is a prerequisite of the mutual trust required by EU membership.

This is why the very first organization to whom we sent our report was the European Commission so that they would be better informed and be able to act.

Unfortunately although they did organize visits by relevant staff to the governments concerned following receipt of our report they have proven to be completely ineffective in getting these governments to observe the Madrid criteria.

We did warn the Commission in November 1999 concerning the potential resistance of these countries to doing anything to assist the Roma and we have done all we can with limited resources to provide information but in practice the European Commission has continued to fail to carry out its mandate and in particular bring these countries to satisfy the Madrid criteria in the case of Roma education.

We would not contemplate approaching any local authority on this issue because of the potential reactions and damage this could do to the local Roma communities. This is a point we communicated to the Commission in April 2003. This is clearly a matter for the European Commission to act.

Commission statement 5b.

Equally the petitioner appears not to have consulted those institutions whose task it is to ensure that the principles of non-discrimination and of equal treatments of minorities are applied, such as the Hungarian Ombudsman for Minorities, the Czech Government Commissioner for Human Rights or the Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Roma Affairs.

ECRE comment:

With respect to the other organizations mentioned, they all seem to have only nominal functions and have very little effective power. It is the European Commission's responsibility to see that all accession criteria are met including the Madrid conditions.

Commission statement 6a.

Fourthly the Commission objects to being labeled with "Criminal intent and professional incompetence" as it might appear under the misleading presentation of paragraphs 192 to 204 of the report.

ECRE comment:

This is a purely imaginary interpretation - no such interpretation was or is intended.

Commission statement 6b

The Commission confirms that Phare projects have never been directed to special schools but rather targeted to improve the situation of the Roma Community including re-directing children from special schools to mainstream education. This fact was explained to the petitioner as a meeting with him.

ECRE comment:

ECRE has never at any point stated that the Commission funds projects concerning special schools. What it has stated is that the Commission is funding the same ministries and organizations who are proactively providing a financial incentive to force children into special schools and whose total value is more than 20 times the aggregate Phare funding. As far as we are aware the proportion of funding actually going on the projects referred to is less than 20% of the total. This means, for example, the Hungarian government is spending 100 times more than Phare to keep children in special schools than Phare is spending trying to"transfer" them. The situation is completely unacceptable and indeed this specific point is one we called attention to in the Petition but which has been ignored by the Commision.

Commission statement 7a.

The problem of the special schools is a complex problem.

ECRE comment:

Special schools are not a complex problem. The issue is that children of normal intelligence are being segregated and denied a useful education based upon their ethnicity. This is against the law. The special school establishments have been used as a convenient location for parking these unfortunate children. The problem exists because of a massive financial incentive paid through the normative financing system. This incentive for discrimination has been so "successful" that the numbers of Roma children in special schools has increased by over 400% since 1989.

Commission statement 7b:

Special schools for children with mental disabilities exists in the member States as well as there is an ongoing debate on their effectiveness compared with the inclusion of children in mainstream education.

ECRE comment:

It is not clear what relevance this is to the present discussion.

Commisison statement 7c

Of course children without such disabilities should not be enrolled in special schools just because of their ethnic, cultural or social background.

ECRE comment:

If the European Commission's view is this, why have they not acted to enforce the Madrid conditions to terminate this practice of the state providing financial incentives to other government institutions to force children of normal intelligence into such institutions?

Commission statement: 8a.

Contrary to the petitioner's statement in paragraph 208, the European Commission has consistently pointed out (most recently in 2001 and 2002) in its Regular Reports on the progress towards accession of the three countries concerned with the problem of the excessive presence of Roma children in special schools and has underlined that discrimination exists in terms of access to education.

ECRE comment

The thrust of the Petition focuses relates more to the fact that the European Commission has never reported the true nature, operation, number of children, funding and scale of the special school systems run within the state administrations and structures and managed by government and which directly abuses normal children. This is in direct contravention of the Madrid conditions which should be met before accession. And the Commission continues to fail to act on this score. In concert with this inaction, the Commission always and continues, as in this response, to studiously avoid drawing any attention to the fact that the whole system is state and government supported and managed as a reasonably covert policy which by its nature is discriminatory and against European law.

Commission statement 8b

The Commission has consistently encouraged all Candidate Countries to address this problem through the design of appropriate policies and the provision of adequate resources to implement them.

ECRE comment

The Commission has available within its mandate the right to force these government to terminate this process of forcing intelligent children into segregated educational denial by asking them to observe the Madrid conditions. Unfortunately, all the Commission does is "encourage" when it has the power to be more decisive.

Commission statement 9.

It is also as a result of this sustained pressure that Candidate Countries have become more attentive to the need of tackling the problem of the over-representation of the Roma in the special schools as well as the practice of segregating Roma children in special classes within normal schools.

ECRE Comment:

This statement is completely untrue.
During the whole of the period the European Commission has been running Phare in these countries and during the "negotiation process" the numbers of Roma children forced into special schools has increased by 400%.

Commission statement 10a.

Specific measures have been taken to address these problems. In Hungary, the Public Education Act has been modified to include the definition and prohibition of discrimination, indirect discrimination and segregation. In addition starting from the 2003-2004 academic years important financial incentives and specific professional support have been introduced for schools promoting inclusive education of children with different social and cultural background. Rules used to determine mental disability have also been made stricter. Measures to promote a more inclusive education (financial incentives for schools, assistance to teachers…) are also being implemented in the Czech and Slovak Republics. These efforts clearly need to be sustained as the number sof Roma children in special schools remains high.

ECRE Comment:

This is just not relevant because in practice these countries are not meeting the Madrid conditions by continuing to pro-actively fund and manage state-sponsored system based upon racial discrimination.

Commission statement 11a.

Phare support has been directed to projects aimed at combating discrimination against the Roma at all levels, improving their access to education (including their inclusion in mainstream education), addressing the problems related to unemployment and alleviating their poverty situation. This is exactly what the petitioner seems to consider as being needed.

ECRE Comment:

Phare funding has not been effective. After 13 years of operation, there is not one successful significant self-sustained project directed at Roma interests. As stated previously, the Hungarian government invests annually 20 times more than the whole Phare budget for that country to force intelligent Roma children into segregated educational denial. This proactive racist policy completely undermines any performance Phare activity might have causing Phare funds to be an effective waste of EU public resources.

This is a matter requiring serious attention and is an item raised in this petition.

Commission statement 11b

Specific measures to promote the social inclusion of the Roma minority are currently being discussed in the context of programming for Structural Funds.

ECRE comment

This petition concerns Roma schooling.

Commission statement 12.

In that respect, the use of Community funds has been fully consistent with the findings of the Commission reports and has helped Candidate Counties to develop more progressive policies towards the Roma. This is recognized by NGOs and Human Rights activities in Candidate Countries.

ECRE Comment:

Since the Commission reports have not reflected the full extent and nature of the state sponsorship of racial discrimination within the state educational system, it is not clear what having "funding reflect ..findings of the Commission reports" means in practice.

Commission statement 13.

The three countries concerned have committee themselves to transposing EU anti-discrimination Directives (Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29/6/2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin and Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27/11/2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation), at the latest by the time of accession and to identifying equality bodies responsible for the application of the rules on racial discrimination. These bodies should be responsible for providing independent assistance to victims of discrimination, and for making independent reports and recommendations on discrimination issues. This is already the case in Hungary where the Ombudsman for minorities has underlined in several instances the problems of discrimination within the education system and most recently denounced a case of a private school refusing to enroll Roma pupils.

ECRE comment:

The transposition of any directives or laws or human rights provisions are of no significance unless the government structures and administration uphold those laws as observed by the Madrid Council. The Commission, in the case of the Roma, only speaks of transposition of laws but it has yet to satisfy the practical requirement of having these governments terminate this racial discrimination within their own structures and administrations. These governments are acting in contravention of European law and have therefore not satisfied accession conditions and will continue to do so as long as the European Commission fails to act.

It is notable that the prime example for Ombudsman action refers to a private school. This would in any case affect perhaps less than 0.5% of the Roma children whereas 99.5% of them are in the state school system.


In the view of the above the Commission:

A. Recognises that the problem of discrimination in relation to education and over-representation of Roma children in special schools remains a matter of serious concern and that the countries concerned have to continue their efforts to address it;

ECRE comment

The Commission continues to avoid mention of the real issue by studiously avoiding mention of the fact that this is a state managed system where all decisions which are discriminatory lie in the hands of civil servants or government employees in contravention of the Madrid conditions.

B. Considers that, after accession, the new anti-discrimination legislation should help in further improving the situation in this respect;

ECRE comment

No legislation will improve the circumstances without satisfaction of the Madrid conditions i.e. having governments and civil servants uphold the law

C. Not in a position to conclude (on the basis of the information provided) that state budget funds destined for Roma education have been diverted to illicit use;

ECRE comment

As explained, the absence of compensatory education, that is use of special school funds to provide compensatory education in place of the removal of children from normal provisions signifies that other uses of these funds is illicit as is the resulting situation of the children

D. Cannot concur with the petitioner's conclusion that … "a temporary embargo on any further funding .. " should be placed and remain in force "until such a time as the special schools system is done away with."

ECRE comment:

Since the governments are not satisfying the Madrid conditions, further funding should indeed be withheld.

E. On the contrary, it considers that the Phare programme is playing a very useful role in promoting anti-discrimination measures in favour of the Roma community, including re-directing Roma children to mainstream education.

ECRE comments

As stated above the Phare funding constitutes around 5% of the funds applied as an incentive driving children into special schools. Only a small part of these Phare funds are being used in the projects referred to and Phare funding will end on 1st May 2004.

On what possible basis therefore is Phare funding considered to be playing a very useful role?