23rd May 2019

EU executive leaves Roma problem to France

One year after EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding compared France to Nazi Germany over its expulsions of Roma, she has opted to keep silent on reports that little has changed.

Reding spokesman Matthew Newman in Brussels on Thursday (29 September) reacted to information published by Human Rights Watch by saying the commission does not have a legal mandate to criticise France.

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"Member states have responsibility for keeping order in their country, their territory, so it's up to each member state to look at the situation and to decide what actions need to be taken," he said. "I am not going to comment on specific actions by member states."

The 2011 reaction stands in contrast to Reding's decision in September 2010 to start a political war with France over the same issue.

"I personally have been appalled by a situation that gave the impression that people are being removed from a member state of the EU just because they belong to an ethnic minority ... This is a situation I thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," she said at the time.

The commission says that in 2010 it acted because France had not correctly transposed EU freedom of movement laws into national legislation. Now that it has, Roma should file grievances with French courts instead of Brussels stepping in.

Human Rights Watch says there is "ample evidence" French police are targeting Roma because they are Roma.

Authorities kicked out 4,714 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens in the first three months of this year compared to some 9,500 in all of 2010. French courts issue mass-scale deportation orders. Police harass Roma with multiple visits and interrogations. They evict them from camps even if they have nowhere to go and force them to sign French-language documents they do not understand.

"You have to wonder whether it [the EU reaction] would be the same if Germans or Swedes for example were to be thrown out," one of the NGO's analysts, Judith Sunderland said.

On compliance with EU law, Human Rights Watch notes people are being deported on grounds they have already visited France once, even though EU directives say they can stay for up to three months. They are also being thrown out in violation of norms on first assessing individuals' needs in terms of poverty or healthcare.

Meanwhile, France is happy to handle the issue without EU scrutiny. "There is no link as far as I am aware with any aspect of the EU, exactly as the commission said," a French diplomat told this website.

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