21st Oct 2016

France invites handful of ministers to 'immigration' summit

  • A 2009 EU elections poster. Romania plans to join the Schengen area in March 2011 (Photo: European Parliament)

Paris has invited a handful of member states to an 'immigration' summit next month, amid strong controversy stirred by its high-profile deportation of scores of Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria.

The meeting is to take place in Paris on 6 September and is supposed to deal with the "general topic of immigration", EUobserver has learned.

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The list of invitees includes interior ministers from Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and Greece. The Canadians have also been invited, while the Belgian EU presidency was added to the list as an afterthought.

But the list is notable for who is not on it. Neither Romania or Bulgaria have been invited - the destination for Roma currently being deported from France.

"We haven't received any invitation at this stage," Mihai Somfalean, media advisor for the Romanian minister of interior told this website.

Poland, a large member state normally makes up part of a so-called G6 group of interior ministers who meet to discuss justice and home affairs issues, has also not received an invitation.

The meeting has no formal agenda, just the broad topic of 'immigration', however it is likely to attract high amount of media attention after being publicised by Italy's interior minister Roberto Maroni.

Praising French president Nicolas Sarkozy's initiative to crack down on illegal Roma, a policy that includes getting rid of their camps, Mr Maroni on Saturday said he would use the September meeting to re-raise the issue of automatic expulsion of citizens from other EU states who cannot sustain themselves financially and made an explicit reference to Roma.

French idea rejected

Meanwhile, the EU commission on Monday (23 August) rejected the French idea that failure to integrate the Roma minority should stop Romania from joining the bloc's border-free area known as Schengen.

"There is actually no criteria in the Schengen [agreement] about integration of a population," EU commission spokesman Matthew Newman said during a press briefing.

French EU affairs minister Pierre Lellouche on Monday in an article in Le Figaro implied that Romania and Bulgaria should not be allowed to join the EU's borderless area in March if they do not "take up their responsibility" towards Roma.

Foreign minister Theodor Baconschi rejected the link saying "no political dialogue should be underscored with threats."

In a move highly criticised by human rights groups, politicians and the Pope, the French government last week dismantled 88 travellers' camps and proceeded to the "voluntary" repatriation of some 200 Roma in return for a compensation of €300 per adult and €100 per child.

Recognising that there is no way to prevent the Roma from coming back to France, the recipients of repatriation aid were requested to sign a form and their fingerprints were taken so as not to be given this money a second time.

Mr Newman said the EU commission has not yet seen any of these forms the Roma had to sign and noted that no complaint has been formulated yet regarding France's compliance with EU law when it comes to freedom of movement.

Two Romanian officials dealing with Roma issues are due to meet him on Wednesday, with Mr Hortefeux saying he will "simply ask them to help with the reintegration in their country."

But the cash-strapped Romanian government has only offered to dispatch ten policemen, as was the case with Italy, which also had a massive clampdown on Roma camps last year.

Meanwhile, a technical assessment of Romania and Bulgaria's compliance with air and sea border security and data security requirements was positively endorsed by all member states in the Schengen working group comprising of diplomats from all EU countries, plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, who are also part of the border-free area.

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