French news media today (16 August) quoted Interior Minister Manuel Valls as saying that giving work rights to the Roma “could be one of the solutions” to the migrant community. Discussions within the government are expected next week.
Civil rights groups have long claimed that without such a measure, the integration of the Roma is impossible.
The move appears to mark a major shift in the way France tackles the problem of Roma from the two newest EU members. The new French government was recently criticised by rights activists, who accused Valls of following up former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s policy of dismantling Roma camps and carrying out arbitrary expulsions.
Valls dismissed the criticism, saying that the Socialist government's approach with tackling the Roma question had “nothing in common” with that of its centre-right predecessors.
Some 90% of the 15,000 Roma in France are from Romania, news media reported, with the rest being mostly from Bulgaria. Bulgarian and Romanian citizens are free to travel to the Schengen countries without visas for up to 90 days. Many Roma from these countries overstay and try to make a living, sometimes engaging in begging.
France and other EU countries must lift working restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals by 1 January 2014 under EU accession treaties. Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007.
France is one of nine countries that still require Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to have a work permit. The others are Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Spain had opened completely to Bulgarians and Romanians, but last year obtained a ‘safeguard’ limiting further arrival of Romanian workers on its crisis-hit labour market.