12th Apr 2021

EU questions legality of French Roma expulsions

  • Roma camp near Strasbourg - France is no longer tolerating such settlements (Photo: Council of Europe)

The European Commission has in an internal report called into question the legality of France's recent dismantling of Roma camps and repatriations of roughly one thousand Romanian and Bulgarian citizens.

"The Commission is seeking detailed information from the French authorities on whether and to which extent the safeguards required by the Free Movement Directive have been applied in recent cases," reads the report, seen by EUobserver.

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The 25-page long document, signed by three commissioners responsible for justice, home affairs and social affairs, requests "full clarification" on the voluntary repatriations, under which adults are paid €300 and children €100 to return home.

"The fact alone that a lump sum is paid to EU citizens in case of return is (…) not sufficient for taking these returns out of the scope of the EU's free movement principles."

As EU citizens, Roma ethnics can only be expelled if the decision is sent to them "in writing, fully justified and open to appeal," and should be given at least one month to leave. The commission also stresses that no "collective expulsions" or ethnic profiling is allowed under EU law, even if the travellers living in improvised camps have overstayed the three months in which they can reside in a member state without registering with the local authorities.

In addition, the EU executive is "in close contact" with the French authorities to see how these Roma ethnics are treated if they return to France, as many of them reportedly have said.

"Bans on entry cannot be imposed on EU citizens who are removed simply because they no longer fulfill the residence requirements. Only those citizens who are legally expelled for reasons of public order or public security may be subject to an exclusion order, which can be reassessed at the latest three years after the measure was taken."

Fingerprinting and registering their personal information in a database would be allowed under EU law "only if the data are collected and used for the specified purpose of avoiding fraudulent double payments and not for other specified purposes."

France's measures are also being scrutinised against similar moves targeting other ethnics or nationalities. A team of legal experts from French ministries are due to meet their counterparts in the commission on Friday, to give further explanations after the respective ministers met justice and human rights commissioner Viviane Reding on Tuesday (31 August).

The expulsions started last month following a speech in which French President Nicolas Sarkozy linked the "illegal" Roma camps to a hike in criminality and vowed to dismantle them without delay. By the end of August, the French authorities said they had evacuated 128 settlements and sent back 979 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens with irregular status.

The governments in Bucharest and Sofia, along with human right groups, the Pope and politicians from within Mr Sarkozy's own centre-right grouping have publicly condemned the move as sparking racism and xenophobia, a fear given weight by a deadly shooting against Roma in Slovakia last week.

Although not officially made public, the report appears to be an attempt by the commission to repair its dented image as guardian of the EU law, after having continuously said it was "analysing" the situation during the month of August.

"I am very pleased to see that this is one of the rare occasions the commission is really doing its duty in enforcing EU law. In other cases of violations of fundamental rights, the commission was reluctant to intervene," Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in't Veld told this website.

She questioned the idea of "voluntary returns", even if the Roma were paid money, since homes were destroyed and they were told to take the cash and leave or face forced evacuation.

"To pay €100 per deported child is a disgrace. They should be paying money for children to go to school, not to deport them."

The MEP suggested that the danger of linking ethnicity and criminality the way Mr Sarkozy has done is consolidating racist attitudes which have started to become mainstream in most EU countries, including in her home country the Netherlands, where a governing coalition is about to be formed with support of the hard-right party led by Geert Wilders.

The centre-left groups within the European Parliament are set to agree a text condemning Mr Sarkozy's actions in the legislature's plenary session next week in Strasbourg. "It remains to be seen if it will be adopted, as the centre-right is hesitating. But the question is do they really want to side with Mr Sarkozy on this one?"

EUObserver's video debate this month focuses on the Roma issue in Europe, with Hungarian Socialist MEP Kinga Goncz, Liberal Dutch MEP Sophie in't Veld and British UKIP member Nigel Farage.

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