EU’s Global Gateway
In competition with China, the European Union (EU) has pledged to give €300 billion to countries around the world in order to help them rebuild their infrastructure. The EU’s Global Gateway is a ‘global investment plan’ that will offer options to countries that are currently dependent upon China’s Belt and Road Initiative and also provide different opportunities through the United States’ and G7’s Build Back Better World initiative. These three different strategies and initiatives will all work in cooperation but also compete with each other to increase infrastructure in underdeveloped countries around the world and bring jobs and opportunities to raise people out of poverty.

The announcement comes after the meeting of the G7 in June 2021, where the members had agreed to launch an infrastructure partnership to meet global infrastructure development needs and will build off of the success of the 2018 EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy. The EU announced on December 1, 2021, that it will direct €300 billion equal to $340 billion to public and private infrastructure investments over the next 6 years through 2027.

Global Gateway Projects

With the announcement of the Global Gateway Strategy, the EU has also laid out how it will divide the money into different sectors such as digital, transport, energy and health. In a press release from the European Commission, it is written that the Global Gateway will “boost smart, clean and secure links in digital, energy and transport and strengthen health, education and research systems across the world.” Europe is also hoping that the Global Gateway will help improve its strategic interests and most importantly boost its supply chains which Europe noticed the instability throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan will focus on providing physical infrastructure such as “fibre optic cables, clean transport corridors and clean power transmission lines.”

EU’s Global Gateway Strategy vs. China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Although the official announcement of the Global Gateway did not mention China or its economic development plan called the Belt and Road Initiative, this new deal comes into direct competition with China’s economic development plan which critics question for forcing already underdeveloped countries into unsustainable levels of debt. Further, the EU’s version will provide financing for countries “under fair and favorable terms in order to limit the risk of debt distress.”

How China’s Belt and Road Initiative Works

China’s Belt and Road Initiative focuses mainly on offering assistance to foreign countries in the form of loans and thus the loans are the only way the countries can improve their infrastructure. Compared to the EU’s $340 billion plan, China plans to spend up to $1 trillion for its plan, which began in 2013. The projects approved with funds from the Global Gateway must support high standards to keep workers safe and properly paid for their work. The money for the plan will come from the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus. This can provide €40 billion guaranteed while giving grants up to €18 billion through external programs.

How the Global Gateway Works

The Global Gateway is bringing together the EU and its member states with financial and development institutions such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) while also mobilizing the private sector to create an even larger impact. In addition to financial contributions for projects, the EU will also offer technical aid to their partners to enhance their ability for credible projects. The Global Gateway will provide a much-needed option to countries that have limited choices for foreign economic development aid. In the case of Sri Lanka, it had taken part in China’s Belt and Road Initiative to build the Hambantota Port. However, when Sri Lanka turned out to be unable to repay its loan, China forced the nation to “hand over a majority stake and  99-year lease on the port to a Chinese firm.”

Conclusion

The EU’s Global Gateway is a necessary achievement for the advancement of progress for countries and their citizens around the world. This is a true achievement of the G7 and will go a long way in supplying sufficient projects and infrastructure to lift people out of poverty around the world. With the support of the European Union and its focus on lifting people out of poverty and competition building foreign countries, the Global Gateway should be able to aid in the reduction of poverty around the world.

– Julian Smith
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Among the Roma in Bucharest
Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is a vibrant urban city with booming contemporary institutions and a greater income per capita than the European Union average. However, there remains a population of individuals that do not benefit from Bucharest’s expanding economy: the Roma. Poverty among the Roma in Bucharest is of particular concern. According to Brookings, the Roma in Romania face an employment rate of about 72% and endure a poverty rate of almost 70%.

Who Are the Roma People?

Scholars agree that the Roma people’s ancestors immigrated to Europe from the Punjab region of Northern India, across “what is now Iran, Armenia and Turkey.” From the ninth century forward, the Roma progressively expanded throughout Europe.

As a nomadic group traveling with few essentials or assets, the Roma face widespread marginalization in Europe. Dating back to the 14th century, some of the Roma arrived in Bucharest, Romania, where they became slaves of the state, institutions or private people. In 1860, the Roma became free but they still relied completely on the state and landowners for sustenance and survival. Some Roma attempted to break this dependency by banding together in clans and migrating.

The Roma in Bucharest

The European Union (EU) is home to “between 10 million and 12 million Roma” people. According to the Council of Europe, roughly 1.85 million Roma reside in Romania and make up 8.32% of the population. These are all preliminary estimates because the Roma people usually choose to reveal their ethnicity only to other Roma people. This renders it challenging to estimate the actual number of Roma people in Romania’s capital of Bucharest, although there is no uncertainty that a considerable number of Roma people reside in Bucharest.

Roma Poverty

The Roma people live and travel in close-knit groups with large families. The Roma are one of Europe’s most prominent ethnic minorities. Aside from these characteristics, people know very little about the Roma people; they speak their own language, which is undocumented, they have unique traditions and they keep to themselves.

Poverty among the Roma in Bucharest is largely the most pressing issue within their communities. Seen as a “problem” within Bucharest, the Roma population reside in slums or ghettos where they live in close quarters with few possessions. In the slums, the Roma often live in squalor with minimal food or water.

The Roma people labor in very specific occupations such as fortune-telling, metalwork and agricultural work. Some, on the other hand, do not occupy genuine occupations, but instead, steal and swindle in order to supplement their income due to their circumstances of poverty. Because the Roma face high rates of unemployment, they end up with minimal means of survival.

Apart from marginalization, one of the main issues that greatly contributes to their circumstances of poverty is a lack of education. Because of a lack of documentation or identification, the Roma struggle to access education, health care and other essential services. The Roma experience profound deprivation across every standard —  education, employment and health.

Roma Discrimination

In Bucharest, Europeans often refer to the Roma people as Gypsies, which is a discriminatory term when used by individuals of non-Roma descent. In fact, the term “Gypsy” is one of the most derogatory social labels in Europe, particularly in Romania. The discrimination the Roma endure also impacts their access to the necessary services and resources to live a better quality of life.

What is the Drug Problem?

Many Roma people in Bucharest rely on drugs to help them cope with their difficult circumstances. Drug use is common among individuals of all ages in Bucharest’s Roma ghettos. In an interview with author Max Daly, Dan Popescu, harm-reduction services coordinator at the Asociatia Romana Anti-SIDA (ARAS) said that “The general public’s attitude to the Roma and to the drug addicts is that we are wasting money on nothing, that it’s better to let them die than to help them.”

Due to their lack of legitimate identification, only 45% of the Roma have access to health care and welfare benefits. Roma drug users often use unclean needles, leaving their community with high rates of HIV and hepatitis C. The fact that authorities rarely acknowledge the Roma only exacerbates the situation.

The Good News

The Romanian Harm Reduction Network (RHRN) aims to reduce “risky behaviors” linked with drug abuse “by increasing the degree of communication between partner organizations and improving the quality of services for drug users at the national level.” RHRN develops and encourages reforms aimed at facilitating the application of successful socioeconomic strategies and initiatives aimed at drug users and various socially marginalized subgroups.

To address the drug problem among people in Bucharest, the RHRN provides training to professionals to enhance their “capacity in harm reduction and HIV prevention service provision.” The curriculum covers topics such as syringe exchange initiatives and treatment with opiate substitutes as well as guidelines for communication and advocacy. These collective efforts ensure a more comprehensive response to the drug problem in Romania, with a particular focus on marginalized groups like the Roma.

Despite the fact that the Roma encounter poverty and oppression in Bucharest, various groups are working to help them rise out of poverty to become an empowered, self-sufficient and thriving population.

– Tiffany Lewallyn
Photo: Flickr

Spain’s housing crisis
In October 2021, government officials in Spain made it their primary mission to combat the ever-increasing rent prices across the country. Governmental officials are tackling this issue by increasing rent-control efforts nationwide. This goal will impact the number of private equity landlords operating in Spain and address Spain’s housing crisis.

What are Private Equity Companies and Landlords?

Private equity companies, more commonly referred to as private equity firms (PEFs), are designed strictly for investment management. PEFs are companies investing in other companies. PEFs strictly buy and sell stocks in private companies on other private corporations’ behalfs to generate income and revenue from the sales of stocks. PEF investments are not made in the public market, but rather in private firms to potentially increase the amount of money made, as a return on investment.

Private equity landlords are corporate landlords that PEFs invest in. This places additional pressure on landlords to make a profit and increase returns for PEFs. Therefore, on top of the money earned in rental prices and the fees incurred through home management as part of rentals, there is a cycle of continuously increasing rents to make more money for PEFs.

Housing Crisis in Spain

Spain’s housing crisis has been an issue since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes it has undergone include drastic rent hikes and lack of home availability in certain regions. The main reason is that many did not feel safe living in congested cities and have attempted to vacate the cities and buy or find home rentals elsewhere.

Spanish citizens have struggled to find affordable housing in a nation with a 21% poverty rate since 2020. This figure of 21% includes 7% of Spanish families that live in severe poverty, according to El Pais.

To top everything off, the hike in rental prices averages 50% over five years. However, prices exceeded a 60% jump between 2014-2017 in Madrid and Barcelona. Comparatively, wages in Spain have increased by 1.6% on average. This is driving an income inequality and challenging many to afford and maintain rental housing. Housing in Spain has become a burden for many due to the influence of private equity companies on rental prices.

During the pandemic, with the lack of growth in wages nationwide and increased hikes in rental costs, Spanish law mandated that no evictions could take place. Nevertheless, in some areas, such as Ciutat Mediriana, evictions continued. Spain’s housing crisis left people on the street with no way to be able to access housing they could afford.

Private Equity Landlords in Spain

Blackstone, a PEF based in the United States, has investments in 30,000 homes across Spain. Blackstone opened housing rental investment opportunities in Spain in 2013. It has not slowed its increases in Spanish housing rental prices since. The return on investments for Blackstone in Spain hit all-time highs for the PEF as it has increased rent prices year after year. The significant returns for Blackstone due to the increased rent prices are costing individuals more than 30% of their income.

Spain’s housing crisis does not have an overnight solution. However, the bill that Spain’s left-leaning officials proposed could fix the problem to some extent. According to Euronews, if Spain implements the bill, it will place rental price caps on any rental company with more than 10 rental homes, effectively strengthening rent control.

About Rent Control

Rent control boosts the economy because it diversifies investments in the public and private sectors. Spain’s housing crisis leaves little opportunity for spending money outside of rental affordability. This leaves other economic sectors falling behind and losing strength over time.

Rent control helps individuals living in lower-income situations keep their housing for longer and more secure periods of time. Landlords are also guaranteed filled buildings when rent prices do not increase and overburden their tenants. Rent control reduces homelessness and evictions, consequently keeping people in their homes and effectively reducing poverty rates.

The bill that the Spanish government proposed to cap rent price increases also benefits the landlords through reduced taxation, giving them the incentive to support the rental caps. This bill could mean diversification of businesses and enhanced opportunities for localized businesses or landlords to combat the PEFs and boost the local economy.

The PEFs in Spain drove rental prices beyond easy affordability for many. Spain’s housing crisis is out of control as a result. This bill could reduce homelessness and poverty. It could boost the economy through localized diversification of business and investments and give Spanish citizens chances to find new homes.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Unsplash

Renewable Energy in Portugal
Portugal is taking advantage of its Atlantic coast by investing in offshore wind farms. These developments occur in an effort to reverse the negative economic effects of COVID-19 and downsize energy poverty in the country. The expansion of renewable energy in Portugal has the potential to reduce the country’s expensive dependency on imports while simultaneously creating new local jobs and domestic industries.

The Issue of Energy Poverty

The United Nations defines energy poverty as a lack of “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy.” Compared to other countries in the European Union, Portugal endures some of the highest rates of energy poverty, with nearly 20% of the country’s population reporting that they were unable to properly heat and cool their homes in 2018. Compared to the E.U.’s average of 6.9%, Portugal has a notably high rate. Energy-inefficient homes result in extremely high energy bills for citizens when temperatures fluctuate, especially in the winter. Recent studies show that 75% of the buildings in Portugal fail to meet the required guidelines for heating. This is an issue that has devastating impacts on the overall health of residents.

The Portuguese government does provide discounts on gas and electricity for households that meet certain socioeconomic criteria, and in 2020, nearly 753,000 households in Portugal received the electricity social tariff. Additionally, approximately 35,000 received the natural gas social tariff. However, the development of renewable energy and the subsequent reduction of overall energy costs could eliminate the need for these social tariffs altogether.

The Economic Effects of COVID-19

Like many countries, Portugal’s economy has faced huge setbacks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its GDP decreased by 8.4% in 2020, “the largest annual decline since 1936.” In order to combat this decline, the country is making strides to expand its renewable energy sector.

The hope is that it can transition from the expensive task of importing fossil fuels to finding innovative ways to generate its own clean energy. Renewable energy in Portugal has expanded greatly in recent years, providing more than 50% of the country’s electricity needs in 2019, with hopes to reach 80% by 2030.

Innovations in Wind Energy

One area of renewable energy in which Portugal has become a leading European country is the development of wind energy. In 2019, Portugal’s Atlantic coast became home to the second floating wind farm in Europe, an alternative to onshore turbines which can disrupt tourism and generate noise complaints. Previously, offshore wind farms were limited to shallow waters, preventing countries like Portugal from taking advantage of the industry due to their deep Atlantic waters.

However, incredible innovation by the Windfloat Atlantic Project produced three wind turbines located 20 km offshore from the port city Viana Do Castelo, minimizing disruption to the local fishing industry and taking advantage of more powerful winds and deep water storms. These three turbines alone possess an installed capacity of 25 megawatts. This is “roughly equivalent to the energy consumed by 60,000 homes in one year.” The cutting-edge feat of the Windfloat Atlantic Project has captured the attention of many other coastal countries who hope to develop similar technology and presents great potential for a resurgence in Portugal’s economy.

Renewable Energy and Economic Growth

COVID-19 caused unemployment in Portugal to skyrocket by 36.2% between May 2019 and May 2020. Throughout the pandemic, workers without degrees in higher education were most affected, with an average increase in registered unemployment of 38.3% between the same dates. However, the expansion of offshore wind energy is creating new job opportunities for this demographic which do not require higher education.

Wind energy in Portugal currently employs approximately 22,000 people, and the Windfloat Atlantic Project, which Ocean Winds implemented in 2011, has created 1,500 jobs for local citizens. Increased dependence on renewable energy in Portugal will also decrease electricity bills for residents and become a pivotal agent in combating energy poverty. Many expect that the pioneer project will grow in the coming years. Portugal is in the perfect position to capitalize on that growth, improving the lives of its citizens and revitalizing its economy in an earth-friendly way.

Like many countries, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were detrimental to Portugal’s economy. However, the success of the WindFloat Atlantic project has resulted in more job opportunities for those who became unemployed during the pandemic, a decreased dependence on energy imports and the downsizing of energy poverty due to the more affordable prices that renewable energy sources are able to offer. The cutting-edge technology of Portugal’s offshore wind farm has sparked excitement in many other European nations who hope to develop similar projects along their coastlines. As a new leader in the development of renewable wind energy, Portugal will continue to innovate and pave the way for cleaner, more affordable energy for all.

– Hannah Gage
Photo: Unsplash

Elderly Poverty in Estonia
Estonia, the northernmost Baltic state, is a member of the European Union that was formerly part of the Soviet Union. After gaining independence in 1991, newly recognized Estonia embarked on a series of political and economic reforms. Many now commonly refer to the country as one of the Baltic Tigers alongside Latvia and Lithuania because of its rapid economic growth. Today, Estonia is a developed, high-income country that consistently ranks high in quality of life, education and digitalization. Despite this, Estonia still lacks in other indicators of development. The road to capitalism increased inequalities in Estonian society that did not exist under communism. Citizens lost some of the safety nets they previously had. Elderly poverty in Estonia remains a significant issue that demographic trends and a fragile pension system exacerbate.

The Estonian Pension System

As of December 2020, 41.4% of Estonians over the age of 65 are at risk of poverty, which is one of the highest rates across the European Union. This percentage has significantly increased since 2011 when it stood at 13.1%. When the Estonian government modernized the economy and pension system after independence in 1991, young people benefitted more because they had more time to collect into their pensions. Those approaching old age or already receiving pensions suffered, evident in the high elderly poverty rate today. When people reach retirement age in Estonia, they receive a pension based on the time they spent contributing to the labor force. In addition to this, Estonians can opt into two other pension pillars, one based on their income and one based on voluntary contributions.

  1. State Pension. The first pillar of the pension system is mandatory for all Estonians. It aims to guarantee a standard of living above the absolute poverty line. Social taxes that the government collected fund this pillar. Citizens receive a pension based on the number of years worked.
  2. Wage-based Pension. Estonians can participate in this pillar by contributing 2% of their salary to a pension fund. This pillar used to be mandatory but is voluntary as of 2021.
  3. Supplementary Funded Pension. This pillar, which insurance companies and banks managed, allows people to make extra payments into their pensions.

With the aging population, the number of pensioners is quickly rising, putting pressure on pension sizes. The Estonian population is aging and the number of working-age people is decreasing. The social tax revenue that funds pensions is likely to decline. The media has criticized the reforms that made the second pension pillar voluntary for their potential to destabilize the economy and increase poverty among the elderly.

Gender and Elderly Poverty

Elderly women are especially vulnerable to poverty in Estonia. According to the OECD, 42.8% of women over 65 in Estonia live in relative poverty, compared with 21.4% of their male counterparts. Women also have a much higher life expectancy than men in Estonia. They are living on average 8.4 years longer than men.

This could mean that women often end up widowed and lose their husband’s source of income. This only compounds the financial problems elderly women may already face because of low pensions. 

Looking to the Future

Despite this, the Estonian government has made efforts to combat elderly poverty. Recent reforms adjusted the retirement age to increase every year with the life expectancy. A higher retirement age means people work longer, contributing more to pension funds that Estonia will need in the future. The Estonian government wants to ensure that the pension gap between men and women does not grow. To do that, it is calling for measures to reduce the gender pay gap. The measures include increasing the Labor Inspectorate’s supervision of wages and promoting gender equality curricula in schools.

The government has not yet analyzed the effects of this plan as it extends into 2023. On a supranational level, the European Union proposed legislation in early 2021 that would require companies to report on pay disparities between males and females. The wage gap has dropped from 22.5% in 2013 to 19.7% in 2020 and projects to drop another percentage point by 2023.

To address elderly poverty in Estonia, various organizations are working on regional, national and European levels. The European Anti-Poverty Network has a commitment to eradicating poverty across Europe and placing the fight against poverty and social exclusion at the top of the EU agenda. It has partnered with the Estonian Association of Pensioners (EPUL), which cooperates with government agencies to protect the rights of the elderly.

Its primary activities are advocacy-focused and help bring elderly voices to the forefront of Estonian politics through public events, lectures and lobbying meetings. In 2018, EPUL signed an agreement that formed elderly councils in the Tallinn city government to involve the elderly in decision-making. The organization also gives free legal aid to the elderly and provided 817 hours of free legal help in 2018.

Though the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on elderly poverty in Estonia is not certain. However, trends in the years leading up to 2020 are favorable. The relative poverty rate is slowly decreasing, as is the gender pay gap that affects old-age pensions. With NGO work and strong national policies, Estonia is on its way to alleviating and eradicating poverty among its most vulnerable population, the elderly.

– Emma Tkacz
Photo: Unsplash

EU Energy Poverty
Rising prices for gas and electricity have prompted the EU to appeal to its member countries to subsidize customers and businesses as it deals with the negative impact of its decisions regarding climate. Seeking to deter energy poverty, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simon spoke of measures that target select customers at most significant risk of energy poverty with direct payments, cutting energy taxes and shifting energy taxes to general taxation. Simon said to the EU lawmakers that mitigating the social consequences and protecting households most at risk is of 
“immediate priority.” He also suggested that businesses engage in longer-term power purchase agreements while not ruling out the possibility for relief through state aid. Here is some information about energy poverty in Europe as well as programs to alleviate energy poverty.

Energy Poverty in Europe

Energy poverty is prevalent across Europe, where anywhere between 50 and 125 million people cannot afford proper indoor heat, according to a 2009 publication by the EU. Member states have acknowledged the gravity of the issue and its ramifications in health issues and social isolation. Energy poverty marks low household income, high energy costs and inefficient energy houses, where an increase in revenue, management of energy costs and more energy-efficient infrastructure are solutions. Energy poverty affects Sub-Saharan Africa significantly, particularly in the medical sector, with limited time for health care activities and thus increasing risk for patients. Europe is not immune to these issues and should not overlook them, even if the potential scale is not as significant.

EU Plans Backfire and Exacerbates

According to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, behind the rising energy prices afflicting Europe today are the EU’s “Green Deal” policies. President Vladimir Putin of Russia shares the same opinion. The Green Deal initiative aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to levels seen in 1990, on the way of eliminating emissions by 2050. One of its strategies involved discouraging the usage of long-term purchase agreements for gas, coal and nuclear energy in favor of short-term pricing to deter its use. LTPAs are not sensitive to market prices and are therefore a more cost-effective option than purchasing gas if one is doing it for the long run. This discouragement has left EU member countries scrambling for alternative gas options amid the energy shortage, exacerbating the already low levels of energy poverty.

Programs to Alleviate Energy Poverty

Various projects have developed across Europe with the common aim of ending energy poverty. Horizon 2020 Energy Efficiency voiced themselves in 2018 and granted around 6 million euros to three projects responding to energy poverty: STEP (Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty), EmpowerMed and Social Watt. STEP, for example, has created a model that includes a call to organizations and consumer groups that specialize in issues affecting those who are energy-poor. It wants to educate energy-poor consumers in nine European countries they have identified as the most energy-poor and share their methods and policies with other EU countries.

STEP

In Lithuania, for example, the Alliance of Lithuanian Consumer Organizations partnered with STEP following inquiries by ALCO into organizations that revealed concerns by consumers regarding energy poverty issues. The Association of Social Workers, an amalgamation of social workers across many organizations, which also happens to be ALCO’s principal partner, received an introduction to the STEP project. This led to several social workers’ interest in receiving the required training to become efficient energy advisors.

EmpowerMed

EmpowerMed, a slightly more nuanced project than STEP, is also addressing energy poverty in Mediterranean coastal areas with a focus on women, gender and health. Its name has an association with numerous publications on energy poverty training, policy and reports. This is part of a constitution of other efforts such as energy workshops, advocacy campaigns that gender-neutral stress policies and energy visits to select households.

Social Watt

Social Watt tasks itself with providing parties exhorted under Article 7 of the Energy Efficiency Directive in Europe to engage with strategies to alleviate energy poverty. Integral and endemic to the function of Social Watts are its features. The Analyzer feature of Social Watts is a downloadable tool that facilitates consumer data observation to identify risk houses. The Plan function identifies optimal solutions that accommodate any nuances in the energy conservation dynamic. The Check tool serves as a verification function to ensure the endeavors of Social Watts are without errors or negative ramifications. 

The ramifications of energy poverty constitute adverse health effects, educational delay, medical impedance and economic disruption. While COVID-19’s economic consequences have exacerbated Europe’s energy poverty, programs to alleviate energy poverty have been able to offer hope to the most vulnerable and, at a minimum, prevent social unrest.

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: PublicDomainPictures

Working to Empower the Roma 
The Roma represent a previously nomadic group of people who are now scattered throughout Europe. Since their initial migration from India to Europe in the 10th century, the Roma have endured persecution. As a result, an estimated 80% of Roma people located in Europe live in poverty. Fortunately, several organizations are working to empower the Roma people throughout Europe.

How Discrimination Drives Poverty

The Roma have faced discrimination in Europe for centuries — an issue that persists even today. Data from 2016 reveals that, at the time, one out of every four Roma encountered some form of discrimination in the past year. Discrimination often restricts people’s opportunities and limits their capacity to escape poverty. For example, the Roma often struggle to find housing and face forced evictions in countries like Bulgaria and Italy. Thus, advocating against anti-Romani discrimination is imperative to alleviating poverty among the Roma.

3 Organizations Fighting for the Roma

  1. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). Founded in 1996, this Roma-led nonprofit organization advocates for the rights of the Roma people through legal action, policy change and education. The ERRC has brought attention to the failure to protect the rights of the Roma throughout Europe, making the situation a primary political focus. The organization has relayed the urgency of this issue to member states of the European Union as well as candidate countries to ensure it receives attention. Furthermore, the ERRC has taken legal action by initiating more than 500 court cases to hold various governments, organizations and even individuals accountable for any discriminatory or violent actions against the Roma.
  2. European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network (ERGO). This network, established in 2008, is a conglomeration of more than 30 smaller organizations that are working together toward the common goal of addressing anti-Romani discrimination. The network’s main objective is to make policymakers aware of how discrimination against the Roma is responsible for the group’s struggle to achieve equality and inclusion. ERGO endorses improved policies to empower the Roma while launching several public campaigns to raise awareness of the issues plaguing the Roma.
  3. The Roma Support Group (RSG). This organization is a Roma-led, U.K.-based group that supports Roma families by offering them a diverse selection of services, such as homeschooling resources, a guide to COVID-19 prevention and steps to follow to report hate crimes. The RSG intends to better the current situation of these families by helping them conquer obstacles such as discrimination and exclusion. It also advocates for the Roma within the public sphere to raise awareness of the struggles they face. This organization is responsible for various projects including the Financial Inclusion Project in London. This initiative helps alleviate poverty among the Roma by familiarizing them with the welfare system and increasing their financial knowledge.

Moving Forward

For years, the Roma have faced persecution and marginalization across the world. As a result of this discrimination and exclusion, many Roma people have fallen below the poverty line. However, organizations are working to empower the Roma while fighting for their rights to live a life free of discrimination. By supporting organizations that empower and protect the Roma, even an ordinary individual can make a difference in the lives of this marginalized group.

– River Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty Rate in Romania
The elderly poverty rate in Romania is a challenge to not only the elderly population but also the country itself. Romania’s poverty rates for retired individuals and elders over the age of 65 have increased drastically from an already high level.

The Issue

Romania’s elderly at-risk poverty rate reached a record high of 25.1% in the year 2020, whereas it was previously 14.4% in 2012. Additionally, 24.5% of elderly women in Romania are under the poverty line with a pension, comparable to the record high of 25.7% in 2016 and a record low of 22.1% in 2010. Comparably, males with pensions reached a record high of 18% in 2020 and a record low of 7.9% in 2012.

These statistics present an evident truth; as the years pass in Romania, the elderly poverty rate is quickly rising. This leads poor elders to search for work to make enough money to survive, which they often do not have the qualifications for. In the end, impoverished elders rely on pension payments, which some do not even qualify for, while others struggle to survive below the poverty line.

Romania’s Health Care System

Romania has a dual health care system. Similar to countries such as Australia, it has both a private and a public health care system. However, its system differs from others when it comes to the government’s involvement. Romania’s government spends an average of 4% of the country’s GDP on health care, which is one of the lowest rates in the EU. The government does not fund private healthcare, thus leading those in poverty towards government-funded health care, which has proven to be inadequate. Furthermore, those who do pay for private health care do not always get a better deal. Since the government is uninvolved financially, private hospitals can overcharge patients exorbitant amounts for as little as a consultation.

Also, since the year 2007, about 15,700 Romanian medical experts from both private and government-funded institutions left the country to pursue a better salary in other European countries. With a sub-par salary for Romania’s government-paid doctors (some specialists receive as little as $350 a month), Romanian doctors often resort to bribery, in which they charge patients additional fees for even the simplest consultations.

In terms of the elderly poverty rate in Romania, it is clear that either of the two options for health care in Romania can be costly, and their physical health frequently undergoes neglect. As of 2020, only 23.4% of Romanians over the age of 65 would rate their health conditions as “good” or “very good,” while the EU average is almost double this, at 41.1%. Additionally, 66.7% of these people reported issues with walking, and 51.9% with vision problems, which they cannot treatments for. In comparison, only about 40% of adults over the age of 65 in the United States have a disability.

The Pension Problem

Romania’s pension system is likely to face challenges due to the country’s aging population. Romania is facing a demographic challenge, with a population decline of approximately 25% from 21.4 million in 2008 to approximately 15 million in 2050. Though Romania will most likely face additional challenges as a result of the projected population drop, one major issue could be pensions.

Furthermore, the proportion of elderly people in Romania could reach 29.9% by 2050, subsequently leading to a strain on the pension system. With an aging population, more people will require pensions, putting the government in a dilemma about whether to pay the full amount necessary. As proven with the health care system that the Romanian government provided, the corrupt country will not be eager to allocate so much money to pensions.

Having said that, Romania does have a solid pension system in place, which is based on citizens’ contribution to the economy over a minimum contribution period of 15 years. However, a growing elderly population could cause the country’s pension system to crash according to projections, potentially impacting the elderly poverty rate in Romania.

Lastly, another issue with the Romanian pension system is the fraud that seems to consistently reappear throughout the years. One of the greatest scandals occurred in 2009, in which Romania reported $7.15 million in pension fraud. Resolving an issue like this would require stronger pension security and a potential re-evaluation of the pension granting system.

People Against Poverty

People Against Poverty is an NGO that works in six countries, including Romania, to reduce poverty levels. It has been working to reduce poverty in Romania since 2003 and has hosted a variety of projects, including an Agricultural Project which provides resources for people in Romania who live in rural communities. NGOs like People Against Poverty are extremely important when considering poverty reduction in entire countries, and the implementation of its programs can help in solving Romania’s elderly poverty issue.

Elderly poverty in Romania has been an increasing problem within the past decade, and will likely continue to be one into the future. It remains in the hands of the Romanian government to solve this problem before the elderly population reaches a peak. However, hope exists that the population will regulate itself, or that the economy will open more jobs for impoverished elders. With the help of NGOs like People Against Poverty and the growing economy in Romania, there is certainly hope that the elderly poverty rate will decline over the upcoming years.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Unsplash

Sanctions on Belarus
Amid continuing United States (U.S.) and European Union (EU) sanctions on Belarus, border officials reported that four
 people have died on the Poland-Belarus border from hypothermia and exhaustion. Polish authorities have been severely restricting the arrival of immigrants. They have been sending people back from the border, leading many to camp out in the dense forests bordering Belarus.

Lukashenko: Reason for the Sanctions

The EU and the U.S. placed numerous economic sanctions on Belarus in response to Belarus President Lukashenko’s threatening political tactics. Lukashenko’s administration grounded a Ryanair flight containing a prominent activist from the opposition and detained numerous journalists critiquing Lukashenko. The Belarus government arrested 35,000 protesters and is holding 626 dissidents as political prisoners. These actions underline a long-term trend that Lukashenko’s actions violate key democratic ideals, as well as implications that he is unfit for leadership or that he won his 2020 election on fraudulent grounds.

Poland’s national government has also indicated that Lukashenko’s administration is responsible for flying in Middle Eastern refugees and pushing them to attempt illegally crossing the Poland-Belarus border. There have been 8,000 attempts during 2021, more than 3,500 attempts in August 2021 and more than 4,000 attempts in the first three weeks of September 2021. Polish authorities do not have enough resources to handle this influx and the over 1,400 in Polish detention centers. In response to these actions, Poland’s permanent representative at the EU, Andrzej Sados, has indicated Poland’s support for heightened sanctions. 

Sanctions’ Heavy Burden on Belarus

Sanctions on Belarus include rigid restrictions on military and surveillance technology, potassium-based fertilizer and petrol/petrol-based products. Bilateral trade between the EU and Belarus increased by 45% in the last 10 years, with 18.1% of Belarus’s goods trade stemming from the EU. Almost 25% of these exports were petroleum or potassium-based fertilizer so sanctions on these items put a heavy burden on the economy.

The U.S. and the EU also sanctioned Belarus’ cigarette industry that contributes significantly to European cigarette smuggling.  For example, over 90% of the cigarettes smuggled into Lithuania in 2020 came from Belarus.

Thirdly, the U.S. EU sanctions on Belarus include sanctions on politically active business leaders and sports entities. Canada joined the U.S. and the EU to sanction oligarch Nikolai Vorobei. The U.S. sanctioned the Belarus National Olympic Committee because Lukashenko’s son controls it.

Sanctions Threaten Belarus’ Success Combatting Poverty

With an economy so dependent on state-owned agricultural or industrial companies and their exports to the rest of Europe, the remarkable progress Belarus has made in lowering its poverty rate is at risk. Between 2000 and 2013, the poverty rate in Belarus fell by 60%. Economists have warned for the last decade that Belarus’ economy depends far too much on the exportation of a few goods. Further, the drop in poverty has not correlated with a rise in living standards. Lastly, the Belarusian rouble has also fallen by more than 30% against the euro since the beginning of 2021. 

The sanctions threaten Belarus’ economic gains, along with Belarus’ dependence on Russia, its largest trading partner. The loss of Russia’s oil and gas subsidies could devastate Belarus.

New Government, New Tech Sector, New Hope

The U.S. and EU sanctions, Lukashenko’s suppression of dissent, the border deaths and Russia’s stranglehold each jeopardize Belarus’ future. A change of leadership is the first step toward positive change. As Klaus-Jürgen Gern from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy said, “But without change, the economy will probably stagnate and decline in relative terms over the next decade because the incentives — like modernization and new investment — won’t be in place.”

Also, a new technology sector is emerging in Minsk. There are more than 450 new tech startups that are not beholden to Moscow. This is a glimmer of hope for Belarus to modernize and relieve itself from harsh leadership and crippling sanctions.

– Shruti Patankar
Photo: Flickr

Romania Battles Recent Diseases
Romania is a beautiful country with rich culture and colorful nature. Romania maintains its traditional folklife with a clash of modernism. If one visited Romania, saw pictures or even watched a documentary, one would see the old and new structural buildings with sheep and cows plaguing the streets. Although thriving, many still consider the country an economically developing nation, with many aspects needing assistance. Currently, Romania is concerned with these recent diseases: the Coronavirus and measles. Diseases in Romania may not always be treatable, but vaccines can make them preventable. 

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted every country. However, it has disproportionately affected those in developing countries like Romania. On February 26, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 received confirmation. Soon after, the coronavirus disease became one of the many diseases in Romania. Romania did not have a stable healthcare system. It did not have the proper resources such as medical equipment, supplies, personnel and let alone enough medical establishments to aid those in more rural areas.

According to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) data graph, Romania appears to face continuously increased spikes of daily infections. The projection estimated for hospital resource use, both beds needed and intensive care units would increase and be in high demand by October 18, 2021. Currently, 27% of Romania’s population has received two vaccinations, compared to 54% in the U.S. Many expect that Romania will stay at 27% while the U.S.’ vaccination percentage continues to grow. Due to the severity of the situation, Romanian authorities took action to spread a national campaign through media channels such as social media and television news to more spaced-out areas in Romania.

Measles

Measles is an infectious disease that affects the respiratory system yet may come across as simple flu. The contagious disease can spread through sneezing and coughing and it is not easy to detect. Many of the diseases in Romania are not curable or treatable but people can prevent them through vaccines and proper methods of prevention. Based on the article, “Measles Epidemics in Romania: Lessons for Public Health and Future Policy” by Stefan Dascalu, measles is the main leading cause of child deaths in Romania. This preventable disease led to the deaths of children, younger than 5 years of age. Although the cases of measles decreased from 1982, it is still endemic.

There are actually two doses of the measles vaccine, which are MCV1 and MCV2. Records and expectations stated that the vaccine coverage would be greater than 95% during the 2000s era. However, in the year 2010, a decreased trend of coverage appeared. By 2014, the trend declined to 89% of coverage only with those receiving the first dose. Unfortunately, the trend will likely continue to decline. In 2016, the most recent outbreak occurred where there were cases that exceed the number of 15,500. Additionally,  the death rates reached 59 individuals who died as a result of measles by the year 2018. The high rates of deaths could be due to many components: the lack of vaccination coverage distributed to areas of the countryside, lack of adequate supplies and the lack of parents’ understanding/ education to vaccinate their children.

Improvements that Leads to Solutions

According to the article, “Romania: Thriving cities, rural poverty, and a trust deficit” by Donato De Rosa and Yeon Soo Kim, Romania has both an urban side and a rural side. Bucharest is an example of Romania’s part that is thriving as a city with a contemporary and profitable system. However, some smaller villages are in the past. As many consider Romania to be an underdeveloped country, it does not have certain advantages like the United States. For instance, Romania faces poverty that has resulted in the lack of a proper health care system and resources for residents in rural areas. Providing foreign aid is a key component to allow these countries to gain stability. Becoming stable will likely help these countries alleviate poverty. This in turn will help economically and strengthen bonds with the other nations.

Member of the European Union

As the World Bank stated in the “Golden Growth: Restoring the Lustre of the European Economic Model,” the European Union (EU) has a goal to converge developing countries for improvement and also for economic benefits. In 2001, the EU integrated Romania as part of its “Golden Growth” model. The EU developed The Golden Growth model for economic convergence, in sections such as trade, finance, enterprise, innovation, labor and government.

There were significant reforms that took place in Romania as a result of the growth model. Reforms included a transition from labor-based and low technology methods to more advanced use of machinery and electronic tools. Between 2014 and 2020, Romania received 17.6 billion euros in investments to improve the nation’s poor infrastructure. The EU’s aid positively impacted Romania’s degree of efficiency and way of life. In turn, this led to Romania’s population decreasing “from 22.8 to 19.6 million since 2000, and is expected to keep falling.” This is a great indication of Romania’s improvement since more children are surviving and thus parents are having fewer children. Still, it is essential to implement better public health programs. Foreign aid to provide supplies to the population and improved education on the importance of immunization for low-income communities can also significantly boost Romania from extreme poverty.

Foreign Aid

Although the diseases in Romania appeared to be dire, the county is not alone in facing these challenges. As a member of the EU since 2007, Romania has received assistance from fellow nations for resources. Romanian authorities’ response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was moderately swift, but it did not live up to its full potential due to the lack of medical supplies, equipment, and knowledge about the disease.

When the next outbreak struck, the country was better able to respond with the proper procedures and knowledge in place. In regards to measles, Romanian medical practitioners are developing strategies to spread the information on vaccines to poorer communities. These strategies range from advertisements to campaigns carried out on flyers. Romania has certainly come a long way from the original state of poverty. Overall, providing more foreign aid is a key component in forming stability in these countries. The U.S. does currently assist Romania but needs to do more with the assets it has.

– Jenny Liang
Photo: Unsplash