Although Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, who is the leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, does not consider his plans for a census of the Roma in Italy based on fingerprinting to be discriminatory, the oldest European institution, which specialises in human rights, sees it differently.
"This proposal invites historical analogies which are so obvious that they do not even have to be spelled out," Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis said in a written statement.
Davis restricted his criticism to the minister, stopping short of condemning Silvio Berlusconi's entire government.
"While I believe that Italian democracy and its institutions are mature enough to prevent any such ideas becoming laws, I am nevertheless concerned that a senior member of the government of one of Council of Europe member states is reported to have made such a proposal," Davis states.
Maroni is justifying his proposal for a Roma census by the need to better control them, since they often move from town to town to avoid checks. This also involves children, who are sometimes exploited by their parents to work as beggars, he said, adding that such parents would lose the custody of their children.
The minister's proposals have also been attacked internally in Italy. A Centrist opposition leader, Pier Ferdinando Casini, called them "racist". Human rights groups also strongly condemned Italy's plan to fingerprint Roma. But an unscientific TV poll showed Maroni's plans to better control the Roma had the overwhelming support of 80% of the Italians.
Luciano Scagliotti from the Italian section of the European Network Against Racism told EurActiv that a law or a measure based on ethnic belonging can have far-reaching consequences.
"It's a violation not only of general principles [but also] a violation of European Treaties, so it cannot be acceptable," he said. "It is exactly the same like the Nazi Germany census of the Jewish in 1938," he further elaborated.
Scagliotti added that a number of specialised NGOs are preparing a dossier for the European Commission to ask for the same sanctions to be imposed on Italy as those slapped on Austria in 2000, when the Freedom Party of extremist politician Joerg Haider joined the government.