Commission hits out at racist Roma statement by Bulgarian minister

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The European Commission yesterday (27 September) described as "unacceptable" a statement by Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who said that the Roma community was an "incubator" for crime. Dnevnik, EURACTIV's partner in Bulgaria, reports.

European Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen answered with a short but resounding "no" when she was asked whether the statement by Bulgarian Minister Tsvetanov was acceptable.

The minister said in an interview with the '24 chasa' daily that a "very thorough analysis" of the Roma problem was needed because "this environment is an incubator for generating crime".

Tsvetanov gave the interview in the wake of a visit to Brussels, where he met yesterday among others Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Commissioner László Andor, with whom he reportedly discussed cooperation on integrating Roma.

The visit took place against the backdrop of controversy surrounding the expulsions of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma by the French authorities. In this controversy, Bulgaria sided with France and said Paris had the right to conduct the expulsions.

Asked by the Brussels correspondent of Bulgarian daily Trud to comment on the fact that he had stigmatised an ethnic community by calling it "an incubator for crime," Tsvetanov insisted he had made the statements in an internal context.

"You live in Brussels. You should go to villages near the big [Bulgarian] cities," he said, hinting that journalists were quick to criticise without understanding the true extent of the problem.

He went on to explain that analyses of criminality had shown that Roma were behind most of the petty crime to which in his words society was most sensitive.

"I only say what the reality is, as we need to call problems by their real names," Tsvetanov said.

The Bulgarian minister repeated statements made by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov at the last EU summit that money to integrate the Roma should be given to the state and not to NGOs.

"Over the last 20 years many NGOs received a lot of money but did nothing," Tsvetanov said.

The minister also insisted that his country should join the Schengen border-free area of the EU in March 2011.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on whether Bulgaria and Romania's accession to Schengen could be blocked due to opposition from EU members who point out that the countries are still subject to EU monitoring over deficiencies in their law-enforcement systems (see 'Background' and 'Romania, Bulgaria presidents push for Schengen accession'), the European Commission neglected to give a clear-cut answer.

Spokesperson Michele Cercone said that on one hand, Schengen accession was conditional on satisfying a series of specific technical parameters. But on the other hand, he added that the decision to take on board new members was political, as it was taken by member countries deciding unanimously.

Krassimir Kanev, President of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, an independent non-governmental organisation for the protection of human rights, called “racist” the statement by Tsvetan Tsvetanov in his interview for “24 chasa”.

“To stygmatise an entire Roma group that it is an incubator for crime is simply a racist statement, which is in no way compatible with the capacity of its author, a minister of the interior, meaning a minister for all Bulgarian citizens,” Kanev said.

“It is extremely unacceptable to say such a thing. It is the same as saying that the police is an incubator for crime. There are Roma who are authors of crimes, there are also policemen who are authors of crime,” Kanev said.

Many Roma from Eastern Europe moved to the West following the EU's enlargement, creating tensions particularly in Italy (EURACTIV 30/06/09).

An estimated 15,000 Roma from Romania and Bulgaria currently live in France. The French government is presently expelling large numbers of them in groups, when they are found to be staying in illegal campsites (EURACTIV 19/08/10).

France is insisting that it measures are not discriminatory and are intended to protect the security of its citizens and public order.

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption - and in the case of Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime. These shortcomings carried the risk that Bulgaria and Romania would not be able to correctly apply Community law and Bulgarians would not be able to fully enjoy their rights as EU citizens.

A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism was set up to assist both countries. Moreover, the European Commission retained the right to use special safeguards. If used, the process could lead the EU to refuse to recognise court decisions or even freeze payments of EU funds. Also, if applied, such an unprecedented decision could badly hurt the countries' reputations.

However, since 1 January 2010, three years after Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, Brussels has been unable to trigger the clause (EURACTIV 24/03/10).

On 13 September EU European affairs ministers decided to extend monitoring of Romania and Bulgaria for another year.

 

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