Parliament to open with debate on Roma

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The European Parliament's silence during the summer recess has been broken by liberal group ALDE, which called for a parliamentary debate on the Roma situation in Europe in early September, following France's move to expel members of that minority to their countries of origin, Romania and Bulgaria.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) deeply regrets that several European governments have brazenly stigmatised the Roma community during the summer months, says a press release.

"The exiling of German-born Roma children to Kosovo, the military-style dismantling of Roma camps in France, the massive expulsions, and the encouragements of an Italian minister to carry out openly xenophobic policies, are sad events for the European Union whose values have been ridiculed," deplored Guy Verhofstadt, ALDE group president and a former Belgian prime minister, who also requested a declaration from the EU Council and the European Commission on the Roma situation in Europe for the next Strasbourg plenary (6-9 September).

"The Parliament must remind Europe of our principles and the Commission must assure that the rights of minorities are respected," Verhofstadt added.

"To tolerate such discriminatory practices could lead to the opening of Pandora's box: who will be the next group to be stigmatised and expelled?" said Dutch MEP Sophie In't Veld (ALDE), on whose initiative the request for a parliamentary debate was sent to the Conference of Presidents.

"I am ashamed of these governments who play populist sentiment against a minority which is already marginalised in their country of origin, and I am even more outraged that so few of these ministers who today are proud of their repressive exploits judged it necessary to attend the European summit on the Roma people last April in Cordova," In't Veld added.

According to information obtained by EURACTIV, the Socialist group also wants to bring the Roma issue to the attention of MEPs as soon as the Parliament resumes its work on 30 August.

Claude Moraes, a UK Labour MEP of immigrant background and a specialist in immigration issues and European law, wants the Roma issue to be discussed immediately after the recess. He has prepared a letter for the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE), asking for a discussion on 1 September and a debate in plenary on the 6th.

The programme of the session will be decided at the Conference of Presidents next week. The majority of political groups are likely to back a discussion on the Roma issue, as even in France, the centre-right is divided on the issue of Sarkozy's expulsions of Roma.

Rachida Dati, a former French justice minister who is currently an MEP in the European People's Party group, published a commentary in Le Monde appealing for France to respect immigrants and their descendants as full citizens.

Dominique Moïsi, founder and senior advisor at Ifri (the French Institute for International Relations), told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview that by trying to please a large section of the electorate, Sarkozy was "playing with fire" and alienating much of the French political elite, who consider his approach "immoral".

MEPs from Bulgaria and Romania are also expected to be vocal, with a slight nuance: the Bulgarian socialists are more critical than their centre-right colleagues, as the official position of the country appears to be that it is much less concerned by the issue than Romania.

To read the interview with Dominique Moïsi in full, please click here

Commenting on the Roma expulsions, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov chose to attack the media, reports Dnevnik, EURACTIV's partner in Bulgaria.

Mladenov said press reports according to which the freedom of movement of Bulgarian nationals within the EU would be restricted are inaccurate.

Bulgarian daily Sega today published a leading article, entitled 'France wants quarantine for Bulgaria and Romania over Roma'. Its author, Svetoslav Terziev, argued that statements by French State Secretary for Europe Pierre Lellouche can be interpreted as plans to impose restrictions on the freedom of movement of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals in the EU.

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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