The European Commission Continues To Press France on Roma Expulsions     Print Email

(October 6)   The European Commission has delivered official notification to France asking it to meet the EU safeguards on freedom of movement and to set out a compliance timetable by October 15 in connection with France’s expulsion of thousands of Roma. However, the Commission stopped short of accusing France of discrimination against the Roma: an ethnic minority originally from India, now living in highest concentration in Romania and Bulgaria.  (An estimated seven to ten million Roma reside within the EU countries with the huge preponderance found in Eastern Europe and in the more recent EU members.)

The Commission action is the latest volley in an increasingly serious row between Brussels and Paris over France’s President Sarkozy’s campaign to forcibly repatriate the Roma.  The Commission’s position is that France is violating EU rules on the free movement of European citizens with the Union. Continued violation could result in “infringement proceedings” brought before the European Court of Justice.  President Sarkozy has responded that EU rules permit deportation of people considered a risk to public security or an undue burden on the welfare system.

Article 21 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides that every citizen of the Union has the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, subject certain limitations, with any forced repatriation proportional to the public safety threat created.

While the Roma issue has assumed its greatest intensity in France since late summer, it is hardly limited to the hexagon. The large movement of Roma out of Eastern Europe and into France, Italy, Spain, UK and Germany, has created substantial tensions and raised significant questions about the ability of the “host” countries to apply the permissible (but vague) limitations with respect to maintaining public order and security.  Italy initiated a crackdown on the Roma two years ago but backed down after a challenge from the Commission citing the freedom of movement guarantees.  Germany also has initiated “repatriation” on a limited basis. Furthermore, questions still remain about Romania and Bulgaria fulfillment of the commitments made, when they joined the European Union, to upgrade the Roma standard of living. (See example of an innovative approach by Hungary in recent European Affairs article).

In today’s announcement, the European Commission also stated that it is reviewing compliance with the Directive on Free Movement of all other member states, and left open the door to further infringements proceedings if violations are found.  Keenly aware of the challenge that social and economic integration of the Roma pose for Europe, the Commission has established a Roma task force and will present an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies in April 2011.

 By Cristina Ungureanu