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24th Jun 2022

Prospect of French 'anti-Roma' summit disturbs EU presidency

  • France is paying Roma children €100 to leave the country (Photo: Magne Haagen)

Belgium, which currently holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency, may reject France's invitation to a ministerial meeting for fear that Paris wants to use the event to legitimise its policy of rounding up and expelling Roma.

"If it begins to be apparent that the meeting is only a meeting on the Roma and for France with their policy to give the impression that other EU countries approve of what they are doing, Belgium will not be keen to attend," an EU diplomatic source told EUobserver.

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France's immigration minister, Eric Besson, has invited his counterparts from four of the EU's other "Big Six" major economies - Italy, Spain, Germany and the UK - to an informal meeting on immigration in Paris on 6 September.

Belgium is also on the list, as is Greece, a major transit country for migrants attempting to enter the EU, and, even more unusually, Canada.

Another EU diplomat told this website that Paris wants Canada at the meeting because Ottawa currently has "a number of different, specific problems with the EU and Roma coming from the Czech Republic and Hungary."

Neither Prague nor Budapest have been sent invitations, however. Bucharest is hoping to be asked. But so far Romania and Bulgaria are also not invited, despite the fact that many of the Roma arriving in other EU cities in the last few years hail from these two poorest of European Union nations.

Poland, which normally attends these types of EU6 meetings, has also been left out, together with the European Commission.

The EU diplomat said that France may be attempting to push the Roma issue at a bilateral level because it is not on the agenda of any Council meetings.

At the last meeting of Europe ministers in Brussels, the French junior minister for EU affairs, Pierre Lellouche, announced French government plans for the Roma round-ups and expulsions ahead of their implementation, but the other ministers merely took note without discussion.

Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni, of the far-right Northern League, has since praised French President Nicolas Sarkozy's Roma crackdown, a move that aims to break up 300 camps and deport 700 Roma adults and children, mainly to Romania.

Mr Maroni wants to go even further. At the weekend he said he would use the Paris ministerial to re-float the idea of automatically expelling citizens from other EU states who cannot sustain themselves financially and live off state benefits.

Italy wants the EU to introduce mandatory deportation of Roma who cannot pay their own way and will push for such a policy at the September meeting, he explained.

It is understood that Greece is also worried that the meeting could turn out to be a France-Italy show dedicated to the Roma issue, despite French assurances to the contrary.

Berlin, for its part, has decided not to send its interior minister - "due to his busy schedule" - and may send a secretary of state instead.

The meeting appears to be human-rights Kryptonite for London as well, with home secretary Teresa May declining the invitation. Britain will send a UK Border Agency civil servant instead.

In a related development, the Liberal group in the European Parliament in its first post-summer-recess statement condemned Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden for their Roma deportations in recent weeks.

"The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe deeply regrets that several European governments have brazenly stigmatised the Roma community over these past summer months," its leader, Guy Verhofstadt, said on Tuesday.

"The exiling of German-born Roma children to Kosovo, the military-style dismantling of Roma camps in France, the massive expulsions, and the encouragements of an Italian minister to carry out openly xenophobe policies, are sad events for the European Union whose values have been ridiculed."

The Liberals have urged the Council and the European Commission to make an official comment on the Roma situation in Europe during the next parliament session.

"The parliament must remind Europe of our principles and the commission must assure that the rights of minorities are respected," Mr Verhofstadt said.

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