Roma Integration ‘All the Way Down’ Lessons from Federalism and Civil Rights



Published Apr 13, 2018
Felix B. Chang


This article argues that critical Romani studies should examine the EU’s top-down policies of Roma integration as an exercise in federalism, since the EU’s quasi-federalist structure both accommodated and co-opted the fight for Roma rights. To bolster its analysis, this article draws comparisons to the actions of the United States (“U.S.”) federal government during Civil Rights. Of course, both Roma integration and Civil Rights are still inchoate projects. However, the longer arc with which scholars have assessed Civil Rights, including its periods of progress and retrenchment, can help develop a framework for predicting how Romani rights within the EU’s federalist system might fare during similar cycles. Three lessons flow from the comparison. First, integration policies spurred by the top rung of the federalist architecture can foment a populist backlash, especially if disparities in competence or enforcement prompt deficits in legitimacy. Second, governmental efforts are necessary for integration but not sufficient; they must work in tandem with advocacy at the grass-roots level. Finally, pushing federalism “all the way down” to incentivize local experimentation with Roma policies might counteract obstructionism to Roma integration at the national level, but this is not a panacea. Local experimentation might take the form of self-governing districts and economic set-asides, but they can just as easily permit local institutions to perpetuate exclusion and marginalization.



civil rights, competence, conditionality, enforcement, federalism, integration