Reding criticises France, Italy over Roma treatment


EU Commissioner Viviane Reding, responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, yesterday (25 August) criticised the French authorities for seeking solutions to immigration problems and tackling the Roma issue outside of an EU context. She also indirectly condemned Italy for its "discriminatory" and "inflammatory" rhetoric.

Reding, who is also a vice-president of the European Commission, broke the silence of the summer recess by publishing a statement recognising that following the expulsions of Roma by France and similar intentions voiced by Italy, the issue had attracted the attention of policymakers at both national and EU levels.

"It is clear that those who break the law need to face the consequences. It is equally clear that nobody should face expulsion just for being Roma," Reding wrote, referring to the fact that Roma are reportedly being expelled en masse, although the French authorities insisted that they were dealing with the Roma on a case-by-case basis, as EU legislation requires.

Responding to an announcement that France will host on 6 September a meeting of immigration ministers from Italy, Germany, the UK, Spain, Greece and Canada to focus on asylum issues and irregular migration, Reding made clear that the Commission disapproved of such initiatives outside of the EU framework. The Commission has not been invited to the Paris meeting.

"I call notably on the French authorities to engage in such a dialogue with all EU member states. If needed, the European Commission stands ready to act as a broker between member states and to monitor and assess progress being made," Reding stated.

Just before the statement was issued, a Commission spokesperson played down the importance of the Paris meeting, saying no decisions were expected to be taken there. However, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said he would call in Paris for changes to EU immigration law, making expulsions easier.

"I regret that some of the rhetoric that has been used in some Member States in the past weeks has been openly discriminatory and partly inflammatory," Reding further stated.

Applauding France for expelling dozens of Roma, Italy recently said it wanted to expel citizens of other EU states who live solely off state benefits (EURACTIV 23/08/10).

Justice and home affairs are no longer an intergovernmental issue since the Amsterdam Treaty, which entered into force in 1999. Moves by Paris and Italy can hardly be overlooked by the Commission, which is the guardian of the EU Treaties.

"Europe is not just a common market – it is at the same time a community of values and fundamental rights. The European Commission will watch over this," Reding concluded.

Reacting to the expulsions, the leader of the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament, German MEP Martin Schulz, condemned the European Commission's failure to act on detailed proposals for action on the Roma issue, approved by the full European Parliament in March. 

"The recent treatment of Roma people in France was appalling and cannot go unchallenged. Their rights have been abused for populist, electoral reasons by a government that is fast losing support," he said.

"As a founding principle, the EU bans discrimination based on ethnic origin or nationality […] scenes like those we have recently witnessed in France must never be repeated," he added, before pledging to keep defending the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.


According to the European Commission, the Roma are the EU's largest ethnic minority, and trace their origins to medieval India. There are many Roma subgroups living in Europe.

Current census statistics state that 535,000 Roma live in Romania, 370,000 in Bulgaria, 205,000 in Hungary, 89,000 in Slovakia and 108,000 in Serbia. Some 200,000 Roma are estimated to live in the Czech Republic, while the same number are estimated to reside in Greece and an estimated 500,000 are in Turkey.

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 live in France. The French government is presently expelling large numbers of them in groups (EURACTIV 19/08/10).

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