European far-right defends Sarkozy’s Roma policy

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Lawmakers from the far-right were the only ones to defend French President Nicolas Sarkozy's tough policies towards the Roma during a debate in the European Parliament yesterday (2 September).

A discussion on France's Roma expulsions, held in the Parliament's committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs (LIBE), saw the European far-right take the floor in defence of Sarkozy.

Due to time constraints, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the chair of the committee, gave only one minute for each MEP to react to a Commission presentation on France's controversial policy.

Françoise Le Bail, the Commission's new director-general for justice, explained that the EU executive had not yet finalised its assessment of the conformity of the measures by the French government with EU legislation.

She explained that an additional technical meeting will take place today (3 September) and that the Commission's first reactions would probably be heard at a plenary discussion, scheduled in Strasbourg on 7 September.

Le Bail said the Commission was ready to play the role of "honest broker" between member states over situations such as the one between France and Romania, but she also appealed for a "concerted effort" at national, European and regional level to deal with the problems of the Roma community.

Strangely, Bulgaria and Romania, the countries of origin of the Roma expelled from France, were almost absent from the discussion. Ioan Enciu (S&D, Romania), took the floor to speak about the "specific" nature of Roma ethnicity, while the only Bulgarian MEP present at the meeting, Stanimir Ilchev (ALDE), left just before the discussion.

Only Dutch Freedom Party member Daniël van der Stroep and Philip Claeys of the Flemish Vlaams Belang, both non-attached, spoke in favour of the expulsions. Both said they knew very little about what was going on between the Roma and the French authorities, but insisted that any European country should be free to expulse not only Roma, but foreigners in general.

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), who is also vice-chair of the LIBE committee, criticised the Commission for its handling of the problem so far, and in particular for sending Commissioner Cecila Malmström to a controversial ministerial meeting in Paris on 6 September, organised by the French authorities with selected EU countries and Canada (EURACTIV 26/08/10). 

French MEP Hélène Flautre (Greens/European Free Alliance) blasted the Commission's "acrobatic" attempts to make Sarkozy's policies compatible with EU legislation. She appealed on the Commission to guarantee basic human rights no matter what populist or nationalist tides were being raised in individual countries.

Spanish MEP Carmen Romero López (Socialists & Democrats) said the expulsions of Roma were in fact deportations, and by trying to accommodate Sarkozy, the European institutions were transforming the European Treaties into "wet paper".

Party of European Socialists (PES) President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen described the French government's policy as being "an affront to basic EU standards and a form of debasing populism".

He described French Prime Minister François Fillon's letter to the European Commission demanding that they improve co-ordination with the Romanian and Bulgarian authorities as "a blatant attempt to confer unwarranted European legitimacy on this bullying national policy".

In a written statement, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek (European People's Party) welcomed the European Commission's intent to act as a broker between EU member states on the Roma debate.

Acknowledging that competence on public order issues lies with the national governments, he cautioned: "All European citizens have the same rights within the EU. No-one can be expelled from a country just because they belong to the Roma minority. Taking into account that we need to improve the social integration of the Roma communities, we should avoid any discriminatory rhetoric in the discussion on this issue."

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).

  • Expert meeting with French authorities takes place in Commission today.
  • 7 Sept.: Discussion in Parliament plenary on Roma issue in Strasbourg.
  • 7 Sept.: Roma Task Force set up by Commission to assess member states' use of Roma integration funds

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