Roma: Brussels finally takes France to task

They talking about us? France Minister of Immigration, Eric Besson, and Secretary of State for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche, Brussels, 31 August 2010
They talking about us? France Minister of Immigration, Eric Besson, and Secretary of State for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche, Brussels, 31 August 2010
15 September 2010 – Presseurop ()

On 14 September the European Commission announced it might well initiate infringement proceedings against France for its Roma expulsion policy. The European press lauds the decision.

The European Commission will probably haul France before the European Court of Justice soon. “During a formal meeting with the French ministers Eric Besson and Pierre Lellouche, the Commission received political assurances that specific ethnic groups were not being targeted,” Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, told Libération.

But the French press has unearthed a ministerial memo singling out Roma for evictions, which gives the lie to said assurances and is pushing Brussels to take legal action against Paris. If the court finds for the Commission, “France could be compelled to remedy the situation or pay a fine, though the latter seldom occurs,” explains Público, adding that the whole proceedings could take years.

Brussels executive branch is saving its own dignity

In these “above all political proceedings”, Paris can’t count on support from any other member state, foresees the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The German daily points out that “what is at stake is not only the binding force of EU treaties, but also how we interpret the human dignity of each and every citizen of the Union: the Commission will not allow any doubts to arise about the EU as a model of respect for human rights”.

In Madrid, El País says “the European Commission aims to offset Barroso’s inanity” and his “disappointing connivance” at the French expulsions. The newspaper takes the decision announced by Viviane Reding for an admonition that “there are limits to populist electioneering at minorities’ expense in the EU”. The Brussels executive branch is “saving its own dignity”. And the editors hope the Commission’s move will mark “a policy shift towards condemning the populist measures some member state governments have adopted in recent years”.

“France has disgraced herself,” exclaims Gazeta Wyborcza. “Neither France nor any other country with so much clout has ever heard such accusations from the Commission, which till now was bending over backwards to avoid irking Paris,” points out the Warsaw daily. But “condemning xenophobia is not enough; we must also take on the problem of the failure to integrate Roma communities in European societies”.

“It is quite refreshing to see how vehemently Viviane Reding dares to denounce France, an EU heavyweight,” says Dagens Nyheter. But the Swedish daily can’t help wondering whether “Reding’s attack is levelled solely at the plight of the Roma. For years, the Commission’s clout has been waning and the heads of state have been increasingly doing entirely as they see fit. If the Commission wants to uphold its prerogative to intervene and force member states – however important they may be – to abide by EU laws, this is a good time to do it.”

Why is Viviane Reding so angry?

"Basta!" yells Adevărul in Bucharest, amazed that "the true test of the resiliency of the EU foundations should come not from the bottomless pit of Greek, Portuguese or Spanish budgetary woes, but from the crummy cardboard camps of Romani immigrants from Romania in France". "But why is Viviane Reding so angry?” asks the Romanian daily. “Maybe because behind the hidden hypocrisy of the €300 offer [to each Romani adult who leaves voluntarily] lie political notions of 70 years ago, or because the next thing you know Paris might be expelling people simply for having a Romanian passport or sitting on the grass.”

And yet, asserts Le Figaro, “Paris has nothing to be ‘ashamed’ of, whatever commissioner Viviane Reding may say. If the EU authorities were even in the slightest concerned about the fate of 10 to 12 million people whom their countries systematically refuse to integrate and who keep wandering around Europe, we wouldn’t be at the pass we’ve come to now.” The conservative French daily adds: “By heeding those who draw absurd parallels with the Nazi extermination of the Jews, the Commission is not likely to improve its already sorely sullied image in the eyes of the French. As they gear up to launch infringement proceedings against France, José Manuel Barroso’s team are fanning the flames of a rather unwholesome debate and providing fuel for the most extremist of reactions.”

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