By Grattan Puxon
After a ten-year siege, Britain’s biggest Traveller community could be saved from destruction by a new EU strategy to integrate Europe’s 11-million Gypsies. The Dale Farm estate in Basildon, like other presently unauthorised sites, may now win a reprieve – at least until alternate accommodation can be provided.
The UK has been given until the end of this year to draw up a national plan to ensure that every homeless Traveller has access to suitable accommodation. “With this EU plan in place,” said Richard Sheridan, president of the Gypsy Council, “we don’t believe the government will allow £20 million to be wasted on an eviction at Dale Farm.”
The European Commission has imposed the deadline on all EU member states in an effort to tackle the current widespread exclusion of Europe’s millions of Gypsies from schools, jobs, healthcare and housing. In a framework document, the Commission says each country should set individual national integration goals in proportion to the Gypsy population on their territory. Each strategy must outline how it will contribute to priority targets. They include reducing child mortality and ensuring that all Traveller children complete at least primary school level education. Most vital to residents at Dale Farm and similar locations where Travellers face eviction from their own land, such as Smithy Fen in Cambridgeshire, accommodation will have to be made available to those in need.
Expected to be finally adopted in June, the plan will oblige all EU countries to design programmes for the uplifting of their Gypsy populations. Funding for the work will be available, according to Romani MEP Livia Jaroka, who has been closely involved in drawing up the EU’s Roma strategy. Jaroka also said Brussels would be in a position to punish countries which failed to properly implement the integration strategy. Britain will have to submit a ten-year Gypsy and Traveller integration programme to the European Commission by the end of this year. It will then be assessed annually.