Thursday, September 9, 2010

Euro MPs slam French Roma policy

European MPs criticise France's expulsions of Roma, as French ministers travel to Bucharest for talks with Romania.

France has been heavily criticised for forcing Roma community members to leave the country to Romania [Al Jazeera]

The European Parliament has passed a strongly worded resolution criticising France's controversial policy of forcing members of its Roma community to leave the country.

The non-binding resolution expressed "deep concern at the measure taken by France and other member states targeting Roma and Travellers," and urged the French government to "immediately suspend all expulsions of Roma".

But France reacted angrily to resolution, with Eric Besson, the immigration minister, who is in Bucharest for talks with Romanian authorities on the issue, describing it as a "political diktat" and refusing to comply with its demands.

"The European parliament has exceeded its prerogatives," Besson said, adding that it was "out of the question" for France to cease its Roma expulsions.

The issue has proven a major test for the European Union, which is based on the principle that Europeans can live and work in any member state they please.

France argues that the Roma are abusing this principle to immigrate and commit crimes, and has called on Romania to do more to integrate the Roma citizens that it deports.

"The truth is the Roma are not integrated in Romania," Pierre Lellouche, France's European Affairs minister said earlier on Thursday.

"France will call for commitments on police and judiciary cooperation, the fight against human trafficking and integration of Roma in Romania, as part of a national emergency plan spanning 2010-2013," Lellouche said before a meeting with Emil Boc, the Romanian Prime Minister.

But Romanian leaders are angry with the way France has handled the affair. Traian Basescu, the Romanian president has warned that the French minister's visit to his country will be useless if they have come to "lecture" Romania.

And the country's foreign minister, Teodor Baconschi, attacked France's expulsion policy in an opinion piece in Thursday's edition of the daily newspaper Evenimentul Zilei.

"Neither a security crackdown nor a paternalist form of welfare are the answer to Roma problems", he wrote."Only a European strategy will allow for a lasting response to the problems and legitimate expectations of this vast community."

France is seeking to deflect criticism for the expulsions by freeing up funding to help reintegrate the deported Roma when they arrive in their home country.

"We have a road map on Roma inclusion, we have made several proposals, but things are not progressing," Lellouche said.

Banconschi stressed Romania had already adopted a national plan for Roma integration and spent nearly 50 million euros since the beginning of the year on programmes meant to improve conditions for the community.

France has deported almost 8,000 Roma migrants to Bulgaria and Romania this year, drawing criticism of human rights groups, the Catholic church and domestic politicians.

Sarkozy's political opponents have denounced the crackdown as an effort to boost his crumbling popularity and deflect attention away from unpopular spending cuts.

Sarkozy and his ministers have defended their policy in the context of a crackdown on foreign-born criminals. But Bucharest has said that none of the Roma expelled had a criminal record.

In more international criticism of French policy, Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, compared France's rhetoric on the issue to that used by Nazi and fascist regimes.

While the remarks brought an angry reaction from France, Hammarberg stood by them on Thursday, insisting that he had not singled out the French government for criticism.

*Source: Aljazeera