Martin Kahanec: “Europe must do more for Roma integration”

kahanecIn an interview with IZA Newsroom, Martin Kahanec, a professor at Central European University Budapest and deputy director of IZA’s migration program, talks about his research on Roma integration and identifies the key challenges for European policymakers.  “I think that the social and labor market integration of Roma is not only a moral but also an economic imperative,” says Kahanec. Read the full interview:

Hardly anybody knows that Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe and one of the most poorly integrated. You did extensive research – most recently for IZA World of Labor – on this topic and the inclusion of ethnic groups in general. What are the main deficits of Roma integration?

Martin Kahanec: According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, there are about 10-12 million Roma in Europe, of which about 6 million live in the EU. The size of Roma populations is difficult to measure and official statistics tend to underestimate it. Within the EU, the largest populations are found in Romania, Bulgaria, Spain, Hungary and Slovakia. Roma are a very dispersed and heterogeneous ethnic group, which has faced significant hardship in interaction with non-Roma majorities in most contexts. A triple vicious circle is at play: socio-economic disadvantages reinforce each other. They lead to negative attitudes and perceptions by the majority populations, which in turn result in ill-chosen policies. Segmentation along ethnic lines is perpetuated through statistical discrimination.

To illustrate the problem, according to a UNDP survey, the average EU employment rate for people aged 20–64 in 2010 was 69%. The rates for Roma living in areas of Roma concentration were just 19% in Spain, 29% in Slovakia, and 32% in Romania. This is related to educational disadvantages. Take Romania: the average years of schooling are 6.1 years for Roma males and 4.9 for Roma females, whereas the corresponding figures for non-Roma living in their proximity are 10.8 and 10.2 for males and females, respectively.

Are European policymakers sufficiently aware of the problem?

I think that the social and labor market integration of Roma is not only a moral but also an economic imperative. Although the European Commission, World Bank or UNDP, as well as numerous civil society organizations raising the awareness of the situation, the lack of progress is stunning. The key reason is the missing political will and courage especially at national and subnational level to systematically address the issue using policy interventions.

How much does unobserved or open discrimination contribute to this status quo?

The data tells us clearly that Roma and non-Roma are treated very differently in the labor market. Moreover, human capital disparities arise even before they enter the labor market, which appears to be the result of unequal treatment in education. Severe intergenerational effects worsen this problem.

What should be the main ingredients of an action plan for better Roma integration?

We have addressed the policy aspects of Roma integration within a larger IZA project advising the High Level Group on Social and Labour Market Integration of Ethnic Minorities of the European Commission. We found that interventions need to be targeted, but participatory and non-segregating. Voluntary participation and transparent, strictly applied rules build up trust, social relationships and a positive perception of the initiative by the parties involved. Long-term commitment and active involvement of all key stakeholders is very important for success.  Policies preventing the residential and social segregation need to receive highest priority. They must also address intergenerational transmission of poverty and human capital disadvantages. Success of integration initiatives is impossible without equal treatment in the labor market.

Some Roma seek better prospects in western European countries like Germany. What is your advice for integration policies in the receiving countries?

Migrating ethnic minorities may try to improve their economic status in their home countries. They acquire new skills and social capital, and may later return on a higher step on the social ladder. In the process, they not only help themselves but also their families and communities. Receiving countries should enable migrants to benefit from their migration experience, providing free mobility, equal treatment and fighting abuse of migrants by various intermediaries or employers.

Political debates in Germany and elsewhere in the EU recently focused on “welfare migration” from Eastern member states. What do we know about the migration motives and the qualification level of migrants from the Eastern EU?

Generally, migrants from the new Member States are rather skilled and bring abilities that are needed in the receiving labor markets. We also observe that they respond to the changing economic situation across sectors and states and tend to move to those with labor skill shortages. Additional drivers of migration are family ties and the wish to acquire good education and new human capital, including language skills. The generosity of the welfare system plays no significant role for migrants.

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