Barroso and Fillon to hold Roma 'workshop'
Even as France in defiance of international criticism on Thursday (27 August) continued its policy of rounding up and deporting Roma from the country, Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced a further attempt to Europeanise the issue.
He told a meeting of French ambassadors at the Hotel Matignon that he had spoken with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and plans to hold a "working meeting" on the Roma question in the coming days between the French ministers concerned and the appropriate European commissioners.
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Mr Fillon insisted, as a number of French cabinet members have in recent days, that the French policy breaches no EU directives.
"The recent deportations of Roma to their countries of origin made by our country have been made in full compliance with European law," he said, according to a report in centre-left daily Le Monde.
"France considers that the only long term solution for these fully-fledged European citizens is better economic and social integration, first of all in their country of origin."
"[And so] the European Union must show strong solidarity with the member states concerned primarily with Romania."
In the face of "disquiet" from the European Commission over the policy, a barrage of criticism from human rights groups and attacks from the leaders of France's Catholic and protestant churches as well as the country's chief rabbi, he said that his government is above all motivated by concern for Roma children, whom the government is paying €100 each to leave France.
"Our priority is also with the plight of the Roma children. Many of them are exploited by criminal networks. This is a situation that is unacceptable in the EU," the minister said.
The Belgian EU presidency meanwhile has ultimately agreed to attend an informal meeting called by Paris of immigration ministers from five of the EU's biggest states on 6 September.
Billed as an 'anti-Roma summit' after Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni said that at the meeting he would push for EU endorsement of automatic expulsion of Roma, Belgium had earlier made it known that it may boycott the event.
If it became apparent that France and Italy would attempt to use the meeting to give the impression of EU backing for their Roma expulsion policies, one EU diplomat told EUobserver on Tuesday, "Belgium would not be keen to attend."
The EU presidency has since received assurances from Paris that the meeting will in the end restrict itself to migration questions and not the Roma issue.
Belgium's secretary of state for political asylum, Melchior Wathelet, is to head to Paris to attend the informal meeting organised by Eric Besson, French immigration minister, it was announced late Thursday.
Meanwhile, as two Romanian ministers were visiting France to discuss the Roma issue, Paris on Thursday stepped up its expulsion agenda, dispatching another 284 Roma to Romania by aeroplane, after two flights left last week.
Immigration minister, Eric Besson, described it as a "renewed acceleration" of the expulsion policy.
Contradicting France's claim that the repatriations are voluntary, AFP reports that one 20-year-old Roma man said: "The police told us to choose: either we willingly left now, or we would be forcibly removed later."
Europe minister Pierre Lellouche said that a further meeting between French and Romanian ministers would take place in Bucharest from 9-10 September and that the two sides would subsequently meet up in Brussels for discussions with the European Commission.
Interior minister Brice Hortefeux claimed that "Romanian national crime" had increased in the Paris region by 138 percent in 2009.
Meanwhile, also on Thursday, Socialist Party opposition leader Martine Aubry called the last few weeks: "a shame for France."