Euro MP: Italy’s handling of Roma ‘clearly fascist’

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European leaders should be more energetic in warning the Italian Government about hate rhetoric against immigrants, says Romanian Socialist MEP Adrian Severin in an interview with EURACTIV.

Adrian Severin, a former foreign minister and UN rapporteur on human rights, is the head of the Romanian Social Democrat Delegation in the European Parliament. He chairs the EU-Ukraine Delegation of the European Parliament. 

To read a shortened version of the interview, please click here

In the last few weeks, the situation has been particularly tense in Italy as concerns the Roma minority and Romanian citizens living there. There was also a debate prompted by the Socialists in the EP. Was this debate successful? 

The most recent debate in Strasbourg was not very conclusive, the reason being that we could not get a majority in favor of a debate followed by a resolution. On the other hand, the debate was good because it came at the right time, as a continuation of a resolution passed at the end of last year. Nonetheless, there is a threat in Italy. Comments like Interior Minister Roberto Maroni’s call for the immediate dismantlement of Roma camps, and the arrest of their inhabitants, are to my mind clearly fascist. Roma are citizens of the EU, you cannot dismantle a camp because its inhabitants are Roma or expel or imprison someone without having legal grounds. 

Are you qualifying only individual ministerial comments as neo-fascist, or the ones of the entire government?

A government has a collective responsibility, it works on the basis of collegiality. When a member of a government makes a fascist remark, either the government adopts it – and it becomes fascist as a whole – or the government dismisses the minister. For the time being, we are in the preliminary phase for such statements, but we should not compromise on our values. 

Are you reproaching to the Italian government’s actions or inactions? 

I think we need to speak both of measures taken and not taken. When a government is lenient with its citizens putting some camps on fire, this is obviously something unacceptable. This a non-action contributing to a certain non-European policy. When you do nothing to stop such kind of actions, while pursuing a rhetoric which incites to hatred or pogroms, you should be condemned as a government. 

But, at the same time, aren’t Roma victims of a similar treatment in other countries, even in you own country, Romania? 

No, I don’t think so. When there was a case a few years ago, in Hadareni, all Europe was against Romania, criticising us even though the authorities reacted quickly and arrested the people responsible for violence. There are also other observers –like Misha Glenny in a recent article in The Guardian – that noted pertinently that there are double standards. My criticism is more likely addressed towards European leaders, because they can stop this kind of dérapage of the Italian government. 

Do you view yourself as a whistleblower in this case? 

If you want to put it so, yes. We have to ring the bell as loud as possible at this moment. But not as Romanians, this is not a Romanian problem. We have to ring the bell as Europeans. A disease is the problem of the sick man. Xenophobia and racism are a disease. Not being xenophobic or racist, we, Romanians, are not the sick man. Those who want to transform this kind of rhetoric into policy, these are the sick. The European ideas must not fall victim to this disease. That’s why we have to intervene quickly, like we did for the mad cow cases for example. 

You are a former minister of foreign affairs and the chairman of the EP Delegation for EU-Ukraine relations. How do you assess the current EU policy towards Ukraine and the recent joint Polish-Swedish initiative on the ‘Eastern Partnership’? 

I think that all member countries and all politicians in the EU should be careful when launching labels. We are extremely good at formulating labels, but we need policies. These policies are missing. An idea was launched without an appropriate description of the scope, of the means, of the reasons and now everyone speculates. This is the perfect recipe to undermine ideas, to stop them flying. Some might have now unrealistic hopes, others unnecessary fears and then we are going to face the consequences of a bad management of expectations. 

For instance, I am sure that Ukrainians will ask me: ‘is this a way to open the doors for the neighbours towards membership of the EU, or is this a way to consolidate the European Neighborhood Policy?’. If it’s the latter, they will respond ‘thank you very much, we don’t need it, because we want an enlargement policy’. 

Clear is the fact that we have to create nuances within the ENP and we have to address our eastern neighbours considering the particularities for their region, just as we should act in another way with our Mediterranean neighbours. The problem is not to launch a new initiative but to revisit our neighbourhood policy, which is inconsistent, unappealing and very much confusing. 

That is because our attitude is one of ‘military monks’ who are trying to evangelise the various barbarians attacking our sacred lands, and who apparently have no interest but to promote the values of purity and generosity. We are not generous and nobody should expect from us to be generous. We have to state transparently our interests in these regions. We are legitimate in following our interests, the others are also legitimate to do so. 

What we should do is to establish a solidarity on interests and to build on that basis common strategies. In order to achieve that, we need interoperability, which is facilitated if we share the same values. We have to learn to deal with people who do not share our values, to talk to those that do not think like us. If we believe in diversity, we should accept that the world is diverse. Not all those that who are not like us are against us. 

What is your assessment of the situation in Ukraine? 

Ukraine is still progressing slowly – I just visited Kiev recently – Ukrainians are continuing to be stuck in sterile political fights. We can still see the mentality of people looking for power without knowing what to do, from a public perspective, with that power. We also have a stalemate of the needed constitutional reforms. The checks and balances system is not there yet and that’s why they need dramatic constitutional reforms. Each of their major politicians is not looking for the checks and balances but for increasing the power of the institution he or she represents at this time. 

Nonetheless, there is good news also. The economy is going relatively well, WTO accession happened, we witnessed a consolidation of the country’s internal unity. Years ago, we were confronted with a clear cultural and national split between the eastern lands and the western parts of the country. But now I don’t think we should be afraid for Ukraine’s statal unity anymore. 

Should Ukraine refrain from joining NATO? 

This is another issue. I would personally like to see Ukraine join NATO, it would be an asset for the organisation, and I am speaking now like somebody coming from a NATO country. But, given the circumstances, I think that in the Ukrainian case, NATO membership cannot take place before EU membership, as it happened with Romania, Hungary, etc. I believe that EU members should gather and ask themselves if the Union needs Ukraine. 

I think we need Ukraine and in this case we should do everything possible in order to get it. I am looking at the EU as an organic body, as a coherent organisation, and Ukraine cannot become a member if it cannot integrate us organically. Therefore, we have to work with Ukrainians to stimulate their desire to become a member. It won’t be helpful to lecture them on a daily basis and tell them ‘call us when you are ready’. 

Romania is a country extremely close to Moldova, you share the same language. How do you see the Republic of Moldova’s European aspirations and its chances of success on this path? 

Moldova in my mind is an easier case than Ukraine: it’s a smaller country so it can progress faster. On the other hand, it is a more difficult case because Moldova is hostage of the Transnistrian problem. I have repeatedly said that Moldova faces an option: either to Europeanise or transnistrialise. Their fight for keeping the unity within borders invented by Stalin prevents them from progressing enough in terms of democracy, market economy and even in terms of national conscience. 

My fear is that the current authorities want to create a nation of homo sovieticus and this is very sad. When they are challenging their Romanian origin they are not defending their state, because Romania does not pose any threat for the statehood of the Republic of Moldova. They are actually acting against their own cultural identity and since one needs a cultural identity, they will try to invent an artificial nation. 

Wasn’t it Stalin the one who invented the Moldovian language? 

Absolutely. While the people in the Republic of Moldova are speaking Romanian they call it Moldavian. I have relatives in that area and we speak the same language, we have the same words in Romanian and in what they call ‘Moldavian’. This is what annoys me very much, that a Stalinist concept meant to divide a cultural nation was used by accident by the EU. The big deal is that Moldavians have to acknowledge their identity, their national conscience – as they wish, nobody forcing them in any direction – but not as a Soviet nation, for which there is absolutely no basis. 

I think we should give Moldova a European perspective and European means to progress, we should try to decouple Moldova’s development from the Transnistrian crisis. Also, we should try to come to an agreement with Russia, because all frozen conflicts in the area are part of a single problem: the post-imperial/post-soviet global status of the Russian Federation. 

Is Transnistria the reason why your country didn’t recognise Kosovo ? 

No. One of the European values is the rule of law, the rule of the right and not the rule of the might. This is fundamental in the EU. Those who are now acting in recognition of Kosovo are acting against the values of the EU, since such recognition of independence has no legal basis. 

Romania is now defending these values, abandoned by other countries. Also to be underlined, as concerns Kosovo, its supporters claim that it is an independent country. One country can either be fully independent or not. One cannot say that Kosovo is a little bit independent and a little bit a protectorate, like one cannot say that a woman is a little bit virgin and a little bit pregnant at the same time. 

If you are a little bit protectorate, you are a protectorate, and this is the current situation. That is why I think the solution to the existent problem is that Kosovo could become a subject of international law only when it is ready to become a member of the EU and only within the European Union. 

What do you think about the recent extraordinary sessions organised by the EP Foreign Affairs Committee, AFET, like the one on Georgia? 

I think that it is rather ridiculous to see that a committee with no legislative power is considered the most prominent committee, and it is also ridiculous to see that the less our powers to shape policy are, the more audacious our ideas are. I think it’s a lack of common sense and it’s weakening our capacity to influence. 

Therefore I am scared, because our words carry a certain prestige, aura, political weight, and when listening to our rhetoric some people might ask if we have ‘army divisions’ behind us. We cannot shape the decision within the EU because, if you look at the statistics, nobody cares about our more audacious ideas, but in the rest of the world we are viewed as expressing the EU attitude. 

I do not say that sometimes we do not have good ideas and very brave and visionary approaches. Indeed, it’s the privilege of the Parliament to be more outspoken and therefore to stay closer to the principles. But on the other hand this capacity of the EP to be more outspoken carries with it the danger of being too emotional or superficial. 

That is why we have procedures that would oblige us to give time to collect information, to listen to all sides and then come to a conclusion. This is what I have criticised recently regarding AFET activities, that we are starting to act like a rapid reaction force. We are not such rapid reaction force by our nature and we are never asked to take executive decisions. In spite of this, we see almost on a weekly basis ‘urgent’ issues, like the Georgian one. 

What happened was indeed a bad development in this country but definitely not a ‘war situation’, as some claimed. We needed to show calm and not immediately jump in the old trenches of the Cold War. A balanced approach also involves listening to both sides, which did not happen. I don’t think that we have to be conciliatory to Russia, but we shouldn’t act like a Japanese soldier abandoned on an island and fighting a decades-long war after the conflict was long over. 

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