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Introduction

The Eurobarometer Report of a survey on Racism and Xenophobia in the European Union (1997) shows some interesting initial results.  Some of these are positive and encouraging, others are negative and alarming.  First the positive.  The survey shows that a large majority of those interviewed attach great value to fundamental rights and freedoms, with 84% opposing any discrimination based on a person’s ‘race’, religion, or culture.  Over 90% put equality before the law, and the right to education and training amongst the rights to be respected under all circumstances.  Over 80% included the following rights:  to legal protection against discrimination; to live with one’s family; to housing; to one’s own language and culture; to religious liberty and freedom of conscience; and to freedom of speech.  Some 75% of interviewees welcomed the development of a multi-cultural society and 70% acknowledged that authorities should make efforts to improve the situation of people from minority groups.  Nearly 80% rejected the idea of repatriation of all immigrants.  84% called for a strengthening of actions by European Union institutions to combat racism through legislation and support for organisations which oppose racism.

The Report points out that the phenomenon of racism is complex and demonstrates the contradictory situation that feelings of racism can co-exist with a strong belief in the democratic system and respect for fundamental social rights and freedoms.  The replies to the more detailed questions reveal that those surveyed believe that there is a need to restrict the rights of those who are considered “problem” groups.  It is in relation to this belief that the Report presents some worrying and indeed alarming results.  Nearly 33% of those interviewed declared themselves as quite or very racist, with respondents from Belgium (22%), France (16%) and Austria (14%) at the top of the scale.  People who described themselves as racist tended to feel personal insecurity and fear of the future, to be on the right of the political spectrum, to be over 55 years of age and to have left education early.  Some 25% of those interviewed favoured the assimilation of minorities (i.e. giving up one’s culture in order to become fully accepted members of society).  40% considered that there were too many people from minority groups living in their country and 20% agreed with wholesale repatriation of all non-EU immigrants.

While the Report does not name the specific minority groups against whom people direct their racism, or about whom people hold hostile views and attitudes, this paper will try to demonstrate that Roma/Gypsies/Travellers are clearly among these groups.  Furthermore, it will try to show that while the racism against Roma/Gypsies/Travellers has much in common with other forms of racism it also has its own specific characteristics and expressions.  Before providing a brief country-by-country account of the situation of Roma, Gypsies, Travellers, this paper will first of all set out some key concepts and definitions as well as a typology of approaches to combating racism.  The paper will also draw attention to some recent anti-discrimination developments at EU level and finally will conclude with a series of proposals and recommendations about what needs to be done.

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