Sweden’s EU Minister Birgitta Ohlsson says she is saddened and outraged that secret talks with Romania about the Central European country’s poorest citizens have broken down.
"We have a more empathetic view of these people," Ohlsson told Dagens Nyheter (DN) on Tuesday. "I think that other countries, not least Romania, are surprised by how we see things."
The Swedish government had been holding closed-door meetings with their Romanian colleagues for months. The Swedes urged their Romanian counterparts to put EU funds to better use in helping the country’s poorest citizens, many of whom belong to minority Roma communities.
The talks have now broken down. Ohlsson said she was outraged, saddened and disappointed by the impasse.
"It drives me mad to see the lack of interest they have in the matter," she said.
DN previously reported that Romania had used just a third of structural funds diverted from Brussels, with only a fraction of the sum used to help Roma communities.
Bucharest is notably opposing the creation of a panel of EU experts to ensure that the funds specially allocated by Brussels actually go to the aim of making Roma part of mainstream Romanian society, she said.
The issue is especially important to Sweden, which has become a major destination for Roma – an ostracised Romanian minority who are sometimes called gypsies, and who live poor, itinerant lives.
A study by Stockholm’s social services estimated that 90 percent of the city’s beggars come from Romania.
To help Romania lift its estimated one million Roma out of poverty and integrate, the EU has set aside money for Bucharest to use.
But Romania has shown difficulty in absorbing the funds. Of the 3.7 billion euros ($5 billion) it had access to over the past six years – which includes the Roma funding – the country has spent just over a quarter.
In February, Swedish Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag said it was "deeply worrisome" that Romania did not apply for the EU resources at its disposal to improve the situation of the Roma.
The Romanian ambassador to Stockholm replied by suggesting Sweden imply ban begging as a way to stem the Roma inflow.
The sight of beggars on Sweden’s streets has angered some and saddened others in Sweden. A suspected assault on an elderly woman in Kista was reported only last week, whereas others have gone out of their way to help the EU migrants.