For more than a decade, the European Union (EU) has been promoting the European Structural Funds (SF) as a key instrument for fostering Roma integration in Central and Eastern European states. It has been estimated that between 2007 and 2013, the European Commission allocated over €12.65 billion towards Roma inclusion objectives, exceeding any previous financial provisions in the region. Yet, the allotment of SF has failed to deliver a tangible impact on the ground, and today a vast majority of Roma communities continue to be disproportionately affected by a high level of poverty and social exclusion. This striking policy failure has been ascribed to overly complex procedures, low administrative capacities within local communities, and a general lack of political will to address marginalization of Roma. What has not been sufficiently explored is the overarching design of SF funding schemes, in particular the framing of ‘Roma exclusion’ and endorsement of targeting schemes.
Building on a constructivist approach to policy implementation, this chapter analyses the design of Roma-inclusion schemes introduced in 2007–2013 SF programming in Slovakia. At the strategic level, the SF framework treats symptoms of wider social marginalization as causes of social exclusion, blaming individual failures or some innate and essential group traits. The persistent disregard of wider socio-economic inequalities and discriminatory practices (pervading the fields of education, employment, and social assistance) results in ethnicization of Roma poverty and legitimization of measures aimed solely at changing the behaviour of a ‘problematic’ group. In this framing, the targeted EU approach, initially envisioned as a tool for delivering SF to the most marginalized communities, contributes to further stigmatization of Roma communities and isolation of Roma-related issues from mainstream development programmes. As such, the opportunity for systemic transformation is lost and, despite increasing investments, the realities of marginalized Roma communities remain unchanged.