Monday

17th Jun 2019

Paris urges Brussels to intervene in Roma question

  • French PM Francois Fillon: The European Commission must intervene (Photo: © European Community, 2008)

After weeks of carefully staying in the background of the Roma expulsion question, the European Commission has been shoved to the forefront of the issue after French Prime Minister Francois Fillon called on President Jose Manuel Barroso to co-ordinate the subject at the EU level.

While warning member states to ensure that any expulsions are done on a "case-by-case basis" and in line with European law, the commission has in the past few weeks consistently argued that it has no responsibility in the area.

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But in the wake of an avalanche of criticism in recent days of the French policy of round-ups and expulsions of Roma from human rights groups, the Council of Europe, French protestant churches and the Pope, Mr Fillon sent a letter to the EU executive, calling on Brussels to "to improve co-ordination with the Romanian and Bulgarian authorities" and "accentuate initiatives within a European framework."

Issuing the letter after an unscheduled meeting of France's interior, Europe, immigration and justice ministers, the French prime minister said he wants Mr Barroso to emphasise EU action on the subject and for the bloc to harmonise its practices regarding the Roma question.

Reding: 'Europe is not just a common market'

In response on Wednesday, commissioner for justice and fundamental rights Viviane Reding in her first direct intervention in the controversy announced that she is drafting a report on the question to be issued next week, investigating specifically whether France is respecting EU law.

She said that while respecting member states' responsibility in the area, the commission was ready and willing to take up the reins.

"The European Commission is prepared to have a very open, frank and honest dialogue with all member states on how best to take on – using the [EU] Treaties and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as the basis – our joint responsibility for the Roma.

She emphasised the root causes of Roma exclusion must be tackled.

"What is needed now are concrete and forward-looking measures to improve the social integration of Roma. We need, in particular, to tackle the root-causes leading Roma to abandon their homes and move across borders."

Ms Reding also warned: "I regret that some of the rhetoric that has been used in some member states in the past weeks has been openly discriminatory."

"It is clear that those who break the law need to face the consequences. It is equally clear that nobody should face expulsion just for being Roma."

"I call notably on the French authorities to engage in such a dialogue with all EU member states. If needed, the European Commission stands ready to act as a broker between member states and to monitor and assess progress being made."

"Europe is not just a common market – it is at the same time a community of values and fundamental rights. The European Commission will watch over this."

Besson: ‘Not an anti-Roma summit'

In a related development, stung by accusations that France was organising an "anti-Roma summit", Eric Besson, France's immigration minister, issued a communique on Wednesday stressing that the upcoming meeting of interior ministers from major EU economies was to cover broader issues than the Roma subject, in particular irregular immigration.

"No point of order is specifically dedicated to this or that nationality or ethnic community," he wrote.

It is instead "a working seminar on the themes of asylum and the struggle against irregular immigration," inviting "those ministers responsible from the principle European countries concerned with these problems."

He also announced for the first time that a US cabinet member has also been invited to the informal bilateral meeting, which is to take place 6 September in Paris. French officials from the Immigration Ministry told EUobserver they did not yet know who in particular they had invited from Washington.

Italian, German, UK, Spanish, Greek and Belgian ministers have been invited, but Belgium is ready to boycott the meeting if it becomes apparent that the meeting will be a "France-Italy show" intended to give the impression that the EU is giving its imprimatur to the Roma expulsion policies of France and Italy.

The meeting appears to be politically toxic to many invitees, with the UK and Germany saying they will send minor officials instead of ministers. Spain for its part has also not decided whether it will attend. Greece however after showing initial hesitation is to send a minister.

In an unusual move, Canada's immigration minister, Jason Kenney, has also been invited. According to EU diplomats, this is due to Ottawa's ongoing issues with the Czech Republic and Hungary over Roma citizens of the two states applying for refugee status in Canada.

Mr Besson also said that the summit is just one of a series of meetings on migration in the coming weeks, notably a ministerial conference in Brussels from 13-14 September and a conference of police chiefs of the EU6 (Germany, France, Italy, Poland and the UK) from 21-22 October organised by Paris aiming to put in place a "Euro-Atlantic clandestine immigration task-force".

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