The European Commission announced today that it will be launching an infringement procedure against Hungary for on-going discrimination against Roma children in schools. The aim of the Commission’s decision to launch an infringement procedure is to ensure that Hungary will implement a solution to rectify the suspected violation of EU law.
The European Commission is requesting Hungary to ensure that Roma children enjoy access to quality education on the same terms as all other children and urges the government to bring its national laws on equal treatment as well as on education and the practical implementation of its educational policies into line with the Racial Equality Directive (Council Directive 2000/43/EC). This Directive prohibits discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin in education. The Commission has a number of concerns in relation to both Hungarian legislation and administrative practices which lead to the result that Roma children are disproportionately over-represented in special schools for mentally disabled children and also subject to a considerable degree of segregated education in mainstream schools. The aim of the Commission’s action is to ensure for Roma children an equal access to education which is a determining factor for employment opportunities and thus an indispensable component of working towards full Roma inclusion. The Commission has sent letters of formal notice to two other Member States, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in relation to similar issues in the recent past. If Hungary fails to reply in a satisfactory manner within two months, the Commission may send to the Hungarian authorities a reasoned opinion.
The focus of the Commission on school segregation in Hungary comes after reports by civil society organisations detailing cases of segregation of Roma children in schools. The segregation of Roma children in schools is a clear violation of Hungarian and EU law on non-discrimination as well as of national and European Court of Human Rights judgements which have previously ruled segregations to be unlawful.
The infringement procedure itself comes after the informal structured dialogue where Hungary failed to convince the Commission with factual or legal information of compliance with EU law. Under the infringement procedure, the Commission can undertake a number of steps if Hungary fails to address segregation, including referring Hungary to the European Court of Justice.
Soraya Post, Co-President of ARDI and Chair of ARDI’ Anti-Gypsyism Working Group, said: "The right to education and non-discrimination are human rights. I am therefore pleased that the European Commission has decided to take action against Hungary on the issue of school segregation of Roma children. Whilst I am pleased that the Commission is restating the principles that all persons have equal rights and shall be treated equally with the launch of the infringement procedure, I find it deplorable and completely unacceptable that a Member State of the European Union still fails to uphold these principles in 2016."
Benedek Javor, ARDI member and coordinator of the Greens/EFA Roma Working Group commented: "This is an extremely timely decision given the deep crisis in the Hungarian education system and that Roma continue to be victims of anti-Gypsyism and still face discrimination not only in the field of education but employment, housing, health care and democratic participation in Hungary and other Member States. I believe that the Commission must take urgent action in all cases and launch infringement procedures in all those cases if the there is no action from the national partners to fight discrimination."
The European Commission decision to launch a probe into systemic discrimination against Romani children in Hungary must help break generations of injustice in the country once and for all, said a coalition of human rights organisations today.
The probe comes after rights groups, including the European Roma Rights Centre and Amnesty International, provided extensive evidence of how Romani children face persistent discrimination and segregation in the Hungarian education system.
The Hungarian government must now heed the European Commission’s call and take immediate action to end the intense prejudice against Romani pupils in the country’s schools.
“By finally taking action on this fundamental human rights abuse denying Romani children access to quality education, the European Commission has said enough is enough and the systemic discrimination and segregation of Romani pupils in Hungary’s schools cannot and will not be tolerated,” said Iverna McGowan, Head of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.
The type of investigation launched today against Hungary, known formally as an infringement proceeding, is a mechanism available to the European Commission to ensure EU member states’ national laws and practices comply with European law. Since 2014, it has been used twice by the European Commission in cases when EU anti-discrimination legislation has been breached, to tackle problems with access to education for Romani children in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Should the Hungarian government fail to address the Commission’s concerns and put an end to this unlawful situation, they risk being referred to the European Court of Justice, which could impose severe financial sanctions on the country.
The infringement proceeding against Hungary opened by the European Commission follows evidence of continued segregation within the Hungarian education system, with 45% of Romani children in Hungary attending segregated schools or classes. Human rights organisations, including the European Roma Rights Centre, have also documented and taken several segregation cases to the courts.
Despite rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, national courts and the Equal Treatment Authority (Equinet: Hungarian Equinet member) that school segregation is unlawful, no action has been taken by the authorities to promote inclusive education. On the contrary, the evidence makes it clear that the government intends to pursue policies that further entrench racial discrimination into Hungary’s school system.
“Despite the European Court of Human Rights explicitly telling Hungary to ‘undo a history of racial segregation’ in its schools against Roma like myself, Hungarian authorities wilfully continue to marginalise thousands of our children within a prejudicial education system,” said Đorđe Jovanović, President of the European Roma Rights Centre.
“Separate can never be equal and Hungary’s aggressive discrimination against Romani children denies them the opportunities to succeed, and traps yet another generation in deprivation and poverty.”
The onus is now on the Hungarian government to take concrete and immediate action to end school segregation, and ensure that every Romani child can exercise their right to education in line with the country’s international and regional human rights obligations.