The plight of the Roma

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Current treatment of the Roma is undermining European values, writes George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management and the Open Society Institute.

The following contribution is authored by George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management and the Open Society Institute.

"The Roma have been persecuted across Europe for centuries. Now they face a form of discrimination unseen in Europe since World War II: group evictions and expulsions from several European democracies of men, women and children on the grounds that they pose a threat to public order.

Last week, France began to carry out plans to expel all non-French Roma, implicating them as a group in criminal activity, without any legal process to determine whether individuals have committed any crime or pose a threat to public order.

These French actions follow Italy's 'security package' of 2008, which described so-called 'nomads' as a threat to national security and imposed emergency legislation leading to expulsions of non-Italian Roma.

Stopping criminal activity is a legitimate government concern. But the expulsion of EU citizens on the basis of ethnicity as a proxy for criminal activity is a violation of EU directives on racial discrimination and the right to move freely from one EU member-state to another.

Indeed, it is a firmly established legal principle that crime should be addressed by a determination of individual guilt before a court of law. Moreover, convicted criminals are not routinely deported if they are citizens of another EU member state.

Instead, European law requires an individual determination that deportation is necessary and proportionate to the crime committed, as well as consideration of other circumstances (such as the strength of the individual's ties to the community).

Of course, European societies should not tolerate criminality and anti-social behaviour. But no ethnic group monopolises such pathologies and all people should be equal before the law.

Since WWII, Europeans have found it unacceptable to subject any group to collective punishment or mass expulsion on the basis of ethnicity, so, in casting aside fundamental rights in the name of security, rounding up Roma sets a worrying precedent.

By contrast, the French government is right to call for measures to improve employment and development opportunities for Roma in their countries of origin (primarily Bulgaria and Romania in this case), which would reduce the incentives and pressure for them to move to other countries. In response to France's position, the Swedish government also called for concerted EU action to foster Roma inclusion."

To read the op-ed in full, please click here.

(Published in partnership with Project Syndicate.)

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