Paris avoids Roma issue at interior ministers' meeting
A controversial 'immigration' meeting called by Paris amid growing criticism over its deportation of Roma carefully avoided the isssue, while focusing on accelerating procedures for expulsing rejected asylum-seekers from non-EU countries.
The informal gathering on Monday featured Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni of the far-right Northern League, as well as his Canadian counterpart, Jason Kenney, and junior ministers from Greece, Germany and Belgium, along with EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom. Britain sent a UK Border Agency official.
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Paris drew a lot of criticism for its selection of guests, as no eastern European countries were invited – notably heavyweight Poland or Romania, to whom France is deporting most of the Roma.
Participants agreed to seek "accelerated procedures" for dealing with people whose requests for asylum or immigration have been refused, said French immigration minister Eric Besson.
The seven countries at the meeting together received more than 183,000 asylum requests in 2009, accounting for half the total in industrialised nations. France was the second-biggest recipient of asylum claims in the world in 2009, after the US. Canada came in third.
"It's urgent to co-ordinate," Mr Besson added.
The Greek representative, Spyros Vougias, said 82 percent of irregular immigrants to Europe entered through his country, which was "no longer able to stem the tide".
Italian minister Maroni, who in the run up to the meeting had praised France's deportations of Roma and said the practice should become an EU model, kept his comments to irregular migration from Africa. Italy has been slammed by human rights groups and the United Nations' refugee agency for having signed a deal with Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi to prevent African asylum seekers from crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.
"The next step in this process is to create a unified European system in legislative terms so that all countries have the same rules and standards in order to better manage a significant phenomenon," Mr Maroni said.
Mr Sarkozy's office confirmed Monday that the president is pushing ahead with another controversial measure - stripping French citizens of their nationality if they are convicted of attacking a law enforcement official. The bill will go to parliament this month.
The measure was first floated in July, when Mr Sarkozy proposed reversing the naturalisation of immigrants convicted of threatening the lives of police in Grenoble. The individuals had participated in a riot after police shot dead a suspected armed robber.
The president also evisages to reform laws to allow immigrants in an irregular situation to be returned to the border, "including, in certain circumstances, those who come from within the European Union."
Tens of thousands of demonstrators protested in several cities throughout Europe in the past few days against Mr Sarkozy's recent security crackdown on Roma ethnics, even as they have EU citizenship.
EU human rights commissioner Viviane Reding on Tuesday is set to hold a public debate in the European Parliament on France's measures against the Roma, after an internal commission paper last week put into question the legality of France's measures.
But in a last-minute meeting held behind closed doors on Monday, Mr Sarkozy consulted commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, officially on items related to France's upcoming chairmanship of the group of 20 most industrialised nations (G20). A spokeswoman for Mr Barroso however did not rule out that the Roma issue may have come up.