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25th Mar 2019

EU Commission skirts Italy sanctions on Roma evictions

The European Commission has not seen enough evidence of discrimination against the Roma in Italy to launch legal action, despite years of documented abuse.

The admission follows the forced eviction on Thursday (26 July) of some 300 Roma in a government-run camp in the outskirts of the Italian capital - in direct violation of an injunction order by the European Court of Human Rights.

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  • Italy's interior minister, Matteo Salvini, is targeting minorities (Photo: European Parliament)

Around 100, including small children, are now reported homeless.

Mina Andreeva, a commission spokeswoman, told reporters in Brussels on Friday it is up to national anti-discrimination authorities to follow up on complaints and to come forward with "concrete evidence".

"Only if it is a systemic breach can we go into an infringement procedure," she said.

She noted the commission has launched sanctions against some member states on similar Roma issues.

"Whenever EU law is not respected, we don't hesitate to launch infringement proceedings, that is why we have the yearly reporting," she said.

But NGOs including Amnesty International have since 2012 been pressing the European Commission to take action against Italy for violating the EU's race equality directive given the state of affairs with its some 170,000 Roma population.

"Basically they [the commission] did open an investigation and have more than enough evidence to launch legal action," Catrinel Motoc, Amnesty Internationals Senior Campaigner on Europe, told this website.

"There seems to be political pressure and recently Amnesty has filed a complaint with the EU Ombudsman alleging maladministration," she said.

The Financial Times in April 2017 said a commission paper demanding sanctions against Italy over the poor treatment of Roma was also binned following pressure from senior commission officials.

The European Commission, when asked to confirm the existence of the shelved report cited in the Financial Times article, did not deny or confirm it.

Instead, it said it had in 2016 "explicitly raised the issue of housing problems in Italy by pointing that the situation has not fundamentally changed" and that evictions should be accompanied by an offer of adequate alternative social housing.

The move to bin the document was reportedly made to prevent a further escalation of tensions with Rome ahead of national elections, which has since catapulted Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right anti-immigrant League party, to interior minister.

A brash politician, Salvini last month declared "a mass cleansing street by street, piazza by piazza, neighbourhood by neighbourhood" of the Roma.

He also demanded an ethnic census of the minority, which was rejected, and regretted not being able to kick out those with Italian citizenship from the country.

Vera Jourova, the EU justice commissioner, described Salvini's "mass cleansing" comments as regretful and "totally unacceptable", noting that Italy had in 2011 agreed to implement a broad EU policy for the integration of the Roma.

According to Amnesty International, the most recent eviction of Roma from the Italian capital had been made shortly after a meeting between Salvini and the mayor of Rome.

This article was updated on 30 July 2018 at 13:14 to include a response from the European Commission regarding the Financial Times article.

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