Parliament demands France immediately stop Roma expulsions
The European Parliament on Thursday (9 September) called for the immediate "suspen[sion of] all expulsions of Roma" by France and all other EU states engaged in the practice, and urged policymakers to avoid "inflammatory rhetoric".
The news came as Paris and Bucharest continued to trade barbs over who is to blame for the failure to integrate the minority.
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The resolution, warning against "lending credibility to racist statements and the actions of extreme right-wing groups," was backed by the left, liberals and Greens and opposed by the right of the house in a 337 to 245 vote, with 51 abstentions.
The parliament "rejects any statements which link minorities and immigration with criminality and create discriminatory stereotypes," a reference to the speech made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in July in which he linked an increase in crime to immigration and began a clampdown on Roma.
Some 900 Roma have subsequently been flown back to Romania and Bulgaria, most of them as part of a so-called voluntary repatriation scheme in which French authorities pay €300 per adult and €100 per child to return.
Fingerprinting Roma, however, as announced by French police, is "illegal and violates the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights," MEPs said. French authorities have said they would fingerprint those people who received money in order to make sure they don't get the aid a second time, if they come back to France.
The EU legislature also deems as illegal the "automatic expulsion" of poor people. According to EU law on free movement of persons, "the lack of economic means can in no circumstances justify the automatic expulsion of EU citizens." Restrictions on freedom of movement can be imposed "solely on the basis of personal conduct, and not of general considerations of prevention or ethnic or national origin."
Mr Sarkozy on Monday suggested that EU citizens be automatically expelled if they have no reasonable economic means of subsistence, an idea already floated by Italy's far-right interior minister, Roberto Maroni.
Italian authorities in recent days have stepped up the dismantling of Roma camps, resorting to the same methods used two year ago, when they ordered a massive crack-down on the minority.
The EU legislature also regretted the "late and limited response" by the European Commission as it took Brussels almost a month to formulate a reaction to the events in France.
Euro-deputies also said there was no connection between the Roma situation and the accepting Romania and Bulgaria to the bloc's border-free "Schengen area", a move planned for next year. This follows French attempts to link the two issues.
France's EU affairs minister, Pierre Lellouche, during a visit to Bucharest on Thursday together with the French immigration minister, called on Romanian authorities to draw up an emergency plan to integrate its populous Roma community.
"The truth is the Roma are not integrated in Romania," he said in the Romanian capital.
Officially, there are 535,000 Roma registered in Romania, but some estimates put the numbers at around 2 million.
A further 10 million are scattered throughout the rest of eastern and central Europe, living mainly in ghettos, shanty towns and caravans.
Romanian President Traian Basescu, however, put the blame on the French and said their actions were in breach of EU law.
"The French government is acting outside the norms of a European state," Mr Basescu said in an interview aired on Wednesday on public television.
The trip of the two French ministers was going to be "useless", he said, "if they are coming here to lecture us."
On the other hand, Mr Basescu acknowledged that it was not solely the responsibility of the French state, but also of the Romanian one and the Roma themselves. "Nobody stops them from sending their children to school instead of begging," he said.
But keeping Roma in one place is "against their nomadic culture" and Mr Basescu saw no political solution to that. "Instead of fooling them with €300, maybe we could find a formula to help them buy caravans," he added.
Centre-right support for France
Meanwhile, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) to which Mr Sarkozy's own party is affiliated, deplored the final text after having failed to take out criticism aimed directly at Paris and Brussels.
"Pointing fingers at France and the European Commission as the left side of the European Parliament has done in a resolution adopted today, does not, unfortunately, address the real challenges of improving the living conditions, education, healthcare and other basic needs of the Roma people who are EU citizens", said Simon Busuttil, a Maltese centre-right MEP who had tabled an alternative version of the resolution, which was voted down in the plenary.
The EPP said it will set up an internal "working group" chaired by centre-right MEP Livia Jaroka from Hungary, the only Roma deputy in the EU legislature.
"It is my clear ambition to start working immediately and to put forward specific policy recommendations with my colleagues in order to promote the institutional establishment of an EU level strategy for the economic and social inclusion of Roma," Ms Jaroka said in a statement.