The European Commission is following very closely France's dealings with its Roma, who the authorities are planning to expel in groups, Commission representatives said yesterday (18 August), after being asked by the Brussels press whether the expulsions were in line with EU legislation.
EU countries have the right to take security measures regarding foreigners residing on their territory, but "we're following the situation with great attention," Commission spokesperson Amelia Torres said.
Torres said two commissioners were dealing with the issue – Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Commissioner Viviane Reding and Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Commissioner László Andor.
Today (19 August), France begins to expel around 700 Roma, mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, who are living illegally in the country, the French press reported. On 28 July, French President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a new anti-crime initiative targeting the "itinerant population," with a particular emphasis on the Roma community (EURACTIV 29/07/10).
Immigration Minister Eric Besson said 79 Roma, who have agreed to return home in exchange for 300 euros for adults and 100 euros for minors, will board a charter flight bound for the Romanian capital Bucharest on Thursday.
He said police had so far dismantled 51 illegal Roma camps and two flights would take the Roma to Romania and Bulgaria on 19 and 26 August, with a third flight set for the end of September.
Journalists wanted to know the basis on which the expulsions of 700 people were being made, as EU legislation requires each case to be examined individually. A Commission spokesperson replied by saying that he would give such details later, as for the time being the EU executive was monitoring the situation.
Teodor Basconschi, Romania's foreign minister, voiced fears of mounting xenophobia in France over the Roma expulsions. "I am concerned about the risks of populist provocation and of creating xenophobic reactions at a time of economic crisis," he said in an interview with the Romanian service of French radio station RFI.
Basconschi, a former ambassador to France, called for a joint Franco-Romanian approach to resolving the situation, devoid of artificial election fever. He was seemingly referring to Sarkozy's weak prospects in view of the 2012 presidential elections.
The president and founder of the Party of the Left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, described as pitiful the French government's policy toward Roma and accused Sarkozy of sparking a climate of tension just to be able to play the role of Zorro.
"No-one gains anything by trying to hide the complexity of certain topics," he continued. "Since the beginning of the summer, the president needs scapegoats," Mélenchon argued.
At official level, Bulgaria remained silent over the controversy, but editorialists from the opposition press blasted Sarkozy's policy of "deportation".
It is believed that the number of Roma from Bulgaria in France and Western Europe as a whole is much lower than the number who come from Romania.