21st Oct 2016

Romania wants France to stop Roma expulsions

  • Tense moment: Traian Basescu (r) telling Nicolas Sarkozy (l) to stop Roma expulsions at the EU summit last week (Photo: Council of European Union)

Romanian President Traian Basescu told his French counterpart at last week's summit to "try to stop" Roma expulsions, but the President Nicolas Sarkozy gave him an "unclear response."

Speaking to foreign journalists in Bucharest on Wednesday (22 September), Mr Basescu said he urged Mr Sarkozy last week in Brussels to "try and stop the process of expelling Roma."

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"The answer was unclear but we decided to talk this over during a meeting in the coming weeks," he added.

"Romania will always defend the Roma's right to move freely in Europe. They are European citizens and as long as there is no evidence they broke the law they should enjoy the same rights of any European citizen."

More than 1,000 Romanian and Bulgarian Roma have been expelled since Mr Sarkozy ordered a clampdown on "illegal camps" in late July, a move which sparked international outrage and put Paris on a collision course with Brussels.

"It was an amicable discussion; maybe we both gesticulate a lot ... We have a friendly relationship," Mr Basescu explained after the Romanian press printed pictures of the two leaders seemingly engaged in a disagreement.

Bucharest has so far failed to take any clear-cut position on the Roma dispute in a bid not to upset France, a long-standing ally.

It maintains that the only solution for integrating Europe's most populous and poorest ethnic minority is a strategy at EU level. Expulsions can only be a "momentary solution," Mr Basescu said.

Romania has 1.5 million Roma, out of which only some 500,000 are "nomads." The rest do not even declare their ethnicity. The problem with the nomadic Roma is that they lack education and professional skills, the Romanian President said.

Romania's parliament on Wednesday also moved to condemn France for a "serious violation" of its citizens' rights.

"The House of representatives and the Senate noted with concern the recent actions of the French authorities and of other European states against groups of ethnic Roma who are Romanian citizens and have been either expelled or repatriated," the Parliament said in its official statement.

It said the expulsions took place in a context of "discriminatory actions" and welcomed the EU commission's threat to take Paris to court over this policy. "We consider that these actions constitute a serious violation of citizens' rights and freedom," it added.

The commission is expected to decide on September 29 whether to take France to court over failure to comply with EU law.

According to AFP, Paris has sent Brussels a paper suggesting that an earlier government memo dated 5 August, which urged police to target Roma camps, does not constitute discrimination.

Meanwhile, Spanish premier Jose Rodriguez Zapatero has joined the pro-Sarkozy camp, limited so far to Italy's Silvio Berlusconi.

"They haven't been deported because of their ethnic origin," he told the Wall Street Journal. "The measures were adopted within the rule of law. Integration principles must work, but also public order must be respected in suburban settlements lacking sanitary or security conditions."

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