EU gives blessing for Italy's Roma fingerprint scheme
05.09.08 @ 09:28
BRUSSELS - Italy's plan to fingerprint Roma people has received a green light from the European Commission, with Brussels' experts suggesting that the controversial measures are not discriminatory or in breach of EU standards.
A commission spokesman told journalists on Thursday (4 September) that the practice proposed by Italian authorities earlier this year is only aimed at identifying persons "who cannot be identified in any other way" and excludes the collection of "data relating to ethnic origin or the religion of people."
The centre-right government of Silvio Berlusconi sparked protests from human rights organisations and several in the European Parliament after announcing its plan to fingerprint Roma people - including children - as part of a census of Roma camps.
Some critics of the move compared it to the policies of Benito Mussolini, the country's fascist leader during the Second World War.
EU justice and security commissioner Jacques Barrot had earlier himself voiced concerns about the legality of the census, asking the Italian government to respond to the criticism by revealing the details of the practice.
But his spokesperson said on Thursday that the report submitted by Italy's authorities in early August showed that no EU principles of human rights protection or non-discrimination were violated, as due to the "good co-operation" between Brussels and Rome, some "debatable measures" had been changed.
Italy's interior minister Roberto Maroni from the anti-immigration Northern League party welcomed the evaluation as "highly satisfying," adding that it is "fair after all the accusations and insults we have received over the past few months," according to ANSA agency.
The European Parliament is also planning to perform its own research into the controversial practice, with a delegation of MEPs set to visit some camps and seek details on how the census is carried out.
Reacting to the commission's blessing to the Italian plan, Hungarian Roma liberal MEP Viktoria Mohacsi said: "I find it most strange that, contrary to the commission statement claiming compliance with the EU law, the fingerprinting procedure seemed to be applied exclusively to Roma, which I cannot interpret otherwise than a discriminatory treatment targeting one specific ethnic group."
Between 90,000 and 110,000 Roma live in Italy, according to the Council of Europe. Many live there without official permission and have set up temporary camps.
Earlier this year, Mr Berlusconi's government declared a national state of emergency in response a sharp rise in crime blamed mainly on foreign nationals, particularly from Romania, and adopted several laws clamping down on clandestine migrants. The centre-left opposition suggested such a reaction was only further boosting xenophobic sentiment across the country.