BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The European Union issued a warning to Hungary on Thursday about discrimination against Roma children in the country's education system.
The EU Commission said an infringement procedure has been launched over concerns that Roma — Hungary's largest and poorest minority — are disproportionately overrepresented in Hungarian schools for the mentally disabled, as well as being segregated in mainstream schools.
"The aim of the Commission's action is to ensure for Roma children an equal access to education which is a determining factor for employment opportunities and thus an indispensable component of working toward full Roma inclusion," the Commission said in a statement.
Hungary, which has two months to reply to the EU, said Brussels was "getting revenge" with the procedure because last year it refused to comply with an EU request to spend funds on the integration of migrants and used them instead to assist needy children.
"The launch of the procedure is surprising because the earlier EU leadership and critics commended Hungary's measures in integration matters," Hungary's Minister of Human Resources said in a statement.
The government said the EU criticism was "inexplicable" because Hungary does not keep a record of a child's origin and said the EU needs to familiarize itself with Hungary's education programs.
"For now we don't understand what the EU Commission's specific problem is," said Janos Lazar, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff. "We would like constructive dialogue to understand each other."
The president of the European Roma Rights Center said Hungary had failed to comply with judgments by the European Court of Human Rights seeking to end segregation.
"Hungarian authorities willfully continue to marginalize thousands of our children within a prejudicial education system," Djordje Jovanovic said. "Hungary's aggressive discrimination against Romani children denies them the opportunities to succeed and traps yet another generation in deprivation and poverty."
The EU earlier sent similar warnings on the same issue of Roma education to the Czech Republic and Slovakia.