EU washes hands of French plans for Roma expulsions as tensions grow
The European Commission on Thursday said it is up to member states to decide whether they expel Roma people, but only on an individual basis and respecting the principle of "proportionality", in reaction to France's announcement it will dismantle 300 Roma camps within three months.
"We're not here, as the European Commission, to judge on individual cases of Roma people. It's for each government, each authority to make those decisions," Matthew Newman, spokesman for justice and human rights said during a press conference.
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He added that before an EU citizen can be expelled from a member state, authorities must examine whether a crime was committed and how the person is integrated into the host country.
On Wednesday, French interior inister Brice Hortefeux said 300 illegal "camps or squats" would be dismantled and the travellers living there, mostly EU citizens from Romania and Bulgaria, will be sent back to their countries.
The announcement came after President Nicolas Sarkozy held crisis talks to discuss what he described as the security "problems" posed by the minority, following an attack on a police station in central France last week.
The French opposition and human rights groups lambasted the decision. Instead of focussing on integrating the Roma minority, the ruling centre-right party has engaged in a "demagogic, aggressive and stigmatising discussion", proposing a security policy which slides into xenophobia, the Socialists said on Thursday.
In Romania, home of the largest Roma population, non-governmental organisations said that France's move violates basic human rights. "Saying that Roma who committed crimes will be expelled is a severe violation of the freedom of movement. The word 'crime' can be [widely] interpreted and can lead to abuses," Gelu Duminica, head of the association Impreuna (Together), told AFP.
Meanwhile, Romanian foreign affairs minister Teodor Baconschi stressed that the nine million Roma living in the European Union were "European citizens" and their freedom of movement could not be impeded.
He also deflected France's objections to accepting Romania into the border-free travel area known as Schengen, a move which should take place in March 2011, together with neighbouring Bulgaria.
"Romania can manage migratory flows effectively, on the external border of the Schengen area. But this has nothing to do with the freedom of movement of European citizens on EU territory. Also, the social inclusion of EU citizens is not among the Schengen requirements," Mr Baconschi told Evenimentul Zilei.
France's EU affairs secretary Pierre Lellouche has previously told France Info and RFI that his country has doubts about Romania's accession to the Schengen area, precisely because of the crimes committed by its citizens of Roma ethnicity.
"There are two and half million Roma in Romania and it is the responsibility of Romania to integrate them, not France's," Mr Lellouche said. "I think the Roma issue should be a condition for Schengen membership," he added.
France is certainly not the only western European country where the Roma community is being stigmatised and pushed back. Two years ago, Italy had taken similar steps after several crimes were allegedly committed by Roma and even allowed for vigilante patrols to be established in the local communities.
And Germany is set to deport 12,000 Roma to Kosovo in the coming years, writes Der Freitag, in a deal that Pristina accepted "under pressure" last April. The paper calls it a "disgrace for Germany", especially since the majority of the nearly 6,000 children and adolescents affected have grown up in Germany, speak neither Serbian nor Albanian and will probably be unable to continue their studies.
In Denmark, the city of Copenhagen earlier this month asked for government assistance, including the use of force, in order to expel the 200 to 400 Roma who live there. "The situation is untenable," the mayor of the Danish capital said, arguing that the number of burglaries has risen in the neighbourhoods where they have taken up residence.
The Roma debate has also arrived up in Belgium, writes Le Monde. Chased away from Flanders, a caravan of around 700 people has been granted permission to settle down in Dour, in the French-speaking Wallonia, despite worries that the group is causing a "feeling of insecurity" among the locals. The permission to stay has been granted temporarily, until 4 August.
"Our population is reluctant when facing these persons," the mayor of Dour, Carlo Di Antonio, was quoted as saying.