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5th Mar 2024

Roma MEP sees French row as golden opportunity

  • "There should be 21 of us," says the only Roma MEP (Photo: MEP office)

As France is about to change its legislation to avoid a court case with the EU over its treatment of Roma, Livia Jaroka, the only Roma MEP in the European Parliament is hoping the media interest will help her push for a "micro-regional" strategy for Europe's largest ethnic minority.

"I hope it's a good time to come up with constructive policies, because now everybody wants a European response to the failure of Roma integration in most member states in the last 20 years," Ms Jaroka, a Hungarian MEP from the centre-right European People's Party told this website in an interview on Tuesday (12 October).

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A "crisis map" of eastern Europe's most disadvantaged "micro-regions" is in the making, she says, with a legal proposal to be adopted under Hungary's EU presidency, in the first part of 2011.

In her view, funding could be modeled on the EU's macro-regional strategy drafted for the countries around the Baltic Sea, which may receive its own funding from 2013 on.

"Or 12 countries could go ahead under Hungary's leadership in the form of enhanced co-operation," she said, referring to a mechanism in the EU treaty allowing at least nine member states to push ahead in one area. But she admitted this would leave out Roma communities in the Balkan countries which are not EU members yet.

The Roma expulsions from France and the subsequent row with the EU commission ended up working to the good of her cause, Ms Jaroka believes, since now there is much more willingness among member states and MEPs alike to push forward with proper laws to improve the lives of the Roma communities.

The commission's threat of legal proceedings against France for bad transposition of the freedom of movement directive "clearly shows what it means to have a legal base."

"What we have on Roma now is not enough: soft law and good resolutions, empty words and window-dressing from the politicians," says the deputy.

Politicisation of the issue, as witnessed in France and Italy with the recent dismantling of Roma camps, is only aggravating the situation of her community, Ms Jaroka said.

But she also admitted that the biggest challenge is to motivate young, educated Roma to stand up for their group and assume leadership.

The 36 year old mother of two is the only representative in the EU legislature of a minority of 10-12 million. "There should be 21 of us, according to the numbers of our population," she says.

From her work field as an anthropologist, Ms Jaroka "sadly" realised that the revival of Roma identity which was slowly emerging seven years ago in Hungary among young proud Roma rappers "has vanished by now".

Poverty and segregation have taken over instead and her own mixed family model has failed to become more common in rural communities.

"Knowing both cultures – my mother is non-Roma, my father Roma - I am convinced it is possible to live peacefully together, to have a shared future, because actually we have the same values: the importance of family, hard work, willingness to learn from other people."

As to her decision to join the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) - both the leaders of France and Italy where the most active anti-Roma policies have occurred come from this political family - Ms Jaroka explained that although her career was shaped by the liberal civil rights movement, it was ultimately the EPP who offered her an eligible position on the party list in the European elections.

"Fidesz (the Hungarian ruling centre-right party) was saying we want a Roma person on the list, because every tenth person in Hungary is Roma. The last few years show that I had a lot to work on in the EPP to make my argument heard, but it was much more than I could have achieved as a very full-hearted leader of anti-discrimination movement," she said.

France to alter its legislation

Meanwhile, France has indicated it will modify its laws on free circulation of EU citizens, in order to meet a deadline by 15 October and avoid a court case filed by the European Commission. A draft bill introduced by Friday would be enough for Brussels not to start legal procedures.

"Since it [the European Commission] has a doubt about French implementation of the relevant EU directives, France will modify its law to take account of their remarks," French immigration minister Eric Besson told Public Senat television station Tuesday evening.

An inter-ministerial meeting on Thursday (14 October) is set to come up with the response awaited by the EU commission, but actual law changes would only come into effect by the end of the year or early 2011, Mr Besson told Reuters.

He added that the polemics with Brussels had "largely calmed down" and that the dialogue on Roma policies was now "constructive."

Last week, justice commissioner Viviane Reding said she would closely watch a French probe into an alleged secret ethnic data base on Roma ran by the Gendarmerie, after lawyers for four Roma rights groups filed a formal complaint for breach of the national law against ethnic profiling.

On Wednesday, the general director of the Gendarmerie, Jacques Mignaux, denied the existence of such files and said the complaint was an attempt to "discredit our institution".

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