European funds for policies of desegregation

The support of the Operational Programmes co-financed by the European Social Fund for the implementation of desegregation policies in the current and new programming period was discussed during the second panel of the National Conference ” Status of educational integration: from segregation to ethnically mixed environment”. Participants in the panel were Jeroen Jute (DG Employment of the European Commission), Ivan Krastev (Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Policy), Hristo Yordanov (representative of the Managing Authority of the Operational Programme Science and Education for Smart Growth), Deyan Kolev (representative of Roma NGOs in the Monitoring Committee of the Operational Programme Science and Education for Smart Growth) and Spaska Petrova (representative of Roma NGOs in the Monitoring Committee of the Operational Programme Human Resources Development). They discussed in front of more than 150 principals, teachers, mediators and NGO activists.

In his statement, Jeroen Jute underlined the continued support of the European Social Fund for Roma policies and in particular for desegregation policies. The ESF will provide more than €2.6 billion to the European Commission. The ESF will provide Bulgaria with €2.6 million in the new programming period (until 2027/2030). This will be allocated through the Human Resources Development Programme and the Education Programme. An important part of these funds is to be used for the implementation of the National Strategy for Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation. Both programmes have already been approved by the Bulgarian government and are expected to be approved by the European Commission within a month.

There are three most important things that we must keep in mind when using funds for Roma integration in the new programming period, Mr Jute said. Firstly, to use the lessons learned from the current programming period. Secondly, we need political determination and will for Roma integration activities. It is particularly important that the political commitment is at both national and local level. Local authorities have an important responsibility in this context. Thirdly, there is a need to build sufficient capacity for the appropriate use of European funds at national and especially local level. Investment must be made in local capacity building.

Following the diplomatic and precise findings and recommendations of Jeron Jute, a statement was made by Deputy Minister of Labour Ivan Krastev. He underlined that the Human Resource Development Programme has a relevance to desegregation policies, as work must be done to build parental capacity and especially tolerance among parents. The latter is particularly important to avoid secondary segregation (i.e. the withdrawal of Bulgarian children from ethnically mixed schools). The Human Resources Development Operational Programme has also had successful interventions in the Roma community during the current period – both through the so-called “mainstreaming approach” and through the targeted approach. Unfortunately, the attempt to include more Roma through the Community Led Local Development (CLLD) approach has been unsuccessful – this approach needs to be changed for the new period to include more actively the theme of social inclusion. Deputy Minister Krastev mentioned the problem that the Human Resources Development Operational Programme has in determining the number of Roma beneficiaries: many of the Roma who participate in the various measures do not want to declare themselves as Roma.

Ivan Krastev then gave a brief overview of the ways in which Roma will be included in the new Human Resources Development Programme as well as in the new Food Programme. The support will again be through “mainstream” measures, through WAMR and especially through the new Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI) approach. The full presentation can be found here.

Hristo Yordanov from the Managing Authority of the Operational Programme Science and Education for Smart Growth presented the support that the outgoing operational programme has given to desegregation and educational integration policies. In his speech, the systemic projects under priority axis 2 (e.g. Your Lesson and Support for Success) were also presented as such support, although they do not have a desegregation focus.

Mr. Yordanov also gave a brief overview of the support planned by the new Education Programme towards the Roma community. It will be both through priority axis 1 “Inclusive education and educational integration” and through the other priority axes. The Monitoring Committee held on 23.06.22 has already approved the first two operations for the new programming period – one of them continues the Support for Success project and the other foresees a major intervention in the field of vocational education.

The Chairman of “Amalipe” and representative of Roma NGOs in the Monitoring Committee of the Operational Programme Science and Education for Smart Growth, Deyan Kolev, gave an overview of the difficulties that hinder the active participation of civil society organizations in the use of European funds. One major obstacle is called “de minimus”/” state support”, which limits the possibility for an organisation to receive more than 391 thousand BGN over a period of 3 years. In principle, this regime applies to economic entities in areas with an existing competitive market for services. Unfortunately, during the past programming period, the Operational Programme Science and Education for Smart Growth started to apply it to all competitive procedures, including in areas without any competitive market for services. As a result, some of the competitive procedures for projects, such as Literacy for Adults, failed almost entirely. The de minimus regime needs to be completely taken out of the new Education Programme, as it is in other European countries, Deyan Kolev appealed. Another difficulty is the unfavourable payment scheme for competitive procedures, according to which advances of 20% are obtained and beneficiaries have to invest large sums while waiting for cashing in of the costs paid. NGOs can hardly survive under this payment regime, and in case of financial corrections (often imposed on minor occasions) they are threatened with bankruptcy, Kolev underlined. He also pointed out that in some of the procedures in which NGOs are partners of municipalities, payments to them by municipalities are delayed for an unreasonably long time, no indirect costs are provided for the NGOs’ teams and the managing authority does not provide assistance to the organisations. This inequality must be changed in the new period if there is to be active NGO participation!

Deyan Kolev also pointed out the difficulties faced by schools and kindergartens. Their participation is guaranteed in systemic projects. And the “flat” rates introduced are a good way to simplify the bureaucratic burden and should be maintained in the new period. The main disadvantage of the systemic projects is that they cannot support desegregation policies. The latter are primarily the responsibility of the municipalities, and therefore the Education Programme should strike an appropriate balance between the direct allocation procedures of the Ministry of Education and specific project procedures in the new programming period. Competitions for desegregation projects, outside the de minimus system, should be announced from the very beginning of the new period and be permanently open, Kolev appealed.

In addition, Deyan Kolev congratulated Operational Programme Science and Education for Smart Growth for the fact that through the projects Support for Success and Active Inclusion in Pre-school Education, the introduction of the position of educational mediator has been supported. It has proven itself fully during the Kovid pandemic and beyond. It is also significant for this that the new system project that will continue Support for Success also provides for the payment of educational mediators. Thus, mediators who are paid by the National Education Mediator Support Programme in the second half of 2022 will be supported beyond that.


See also:

The Future of Desegregation and Education Policies