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.