On Tuesday, Sweden's EU Minister said she was "angry, sad and disappointed" at the attitude of Romanian officials, after months of fruitless discussions on what can be done to improve the lives of Romania's Roma population, which currently are over-represented among the people begging on the streets in Sweden. The number of beggars have increased sharply here over the past year or two, and it has led to an intense national debate.
In an interview with the daily Dagens Nyheter on Tuesday, the EU Minister revealed that the government has held "secret talks" with Romania to get that country to take better care of its citizens. Romania could received billions in EU grants, but only a fraction has been used, she said. National and local government have to match European funding for projects to go ahead, according to EU rules.
The Swedish government is pushing for the establishment of an expert group that will help Romania apply for these grants. According to Birgitta Ohlsson, Romania prefers to have a bi-lateral co-operation with Sweden instead. This is not the way the Swedish government wants to do it, and according to Birgitta Ohlsson, they will now pursue the issue with the European Commission.
"We have tried to get Romania to support the proposal, but they have refused. There is a certain political unwillingness, and political prestige is also involved," Ohlsson told DN. "I get angry at their lack of interest."
And in an interview with Swedish Radio News, Ohlsson said "I think it is a lot about political prestige in Romania. Romanian politicians do not win any elections on this, helping vulnerable groups like the Roma people, who are seen as second class citizens."
Her strong words are met with surprise in Romania. In a written statement, Romania's Minister for European Funds, Eugen Teodorovici, calls the comments "a punch in the mouth". He says he is "deeply concerned about the 'furious' position recently expressed by the Swedish minister Birgitta Ohlsson as well as her totally unjust and undiplomatic approach towards Romania."
In his statement, the minister does not comment on the proposal of an "expert group" to help Romania make use of EU-funding to help the Roma population, but emphasises bilateral solutions. He points out that EU-money has reached 131,000 Roma people in Romania, which is about 20 percent of the whole Roma population in the country.
Teodorovici also says that "the problem concerning the Roma community is a problem of all the European Union member states and not of only one member!"