Report France / Romania

Roma in the firing line

In the wake of a spate of violent incidents, the French president has announced his intention to attack “the problem of the behaviour of certain elements in the Rom and itinerant community,” recommending that foreign troublemakers be deported to their country of origin — a controversial policy in both France and Romania, which highlights the European dimension of this issue.

Published on 28 July 2010 at 14:51
 | A sitting target for Sarkozy? Rom woman at a camp by a motorway near Strasbourg.

It is always a tricky thing to build sustainable policy in the heat of the moment after dramatic incidents. In the wake of the violence in Saint-Aignan [prompted by the death of a young gypsy who was shot by police on the night of 16-17 July when the car in which he was a passenger forced its way through a checkpoint], is it appropriate to convene a meeting at the Elysée to discuss "itinerant groups and Roms” and "the problem posed by the behaviour of some elements" in those communities?

Some pause for thought?

There has been no shortage of criticism of Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision, but how would we have responded if the trouble in Saint-Aignan had simply been ignored by the head of state and his government? Now that a meeting has been scheduled, the only important issue is the impact it will have on future policy. And to form an opinion on that question we will have to wait for the conclusions of today’s debate.

Would some pause for thought between an announcement made in the heat of the moment and the taking of long-term decisions have served to clarify the agenda for this meeting? Would it have helped distinguish between facts and prejudices about the Rom community? In the interest of accuracy, should more efforts have been made to define what is at issue and who will be concerned by today’s decisions? The Travellers, an administrative category that is preferred to the ethnic label of Roms of French origin, or the Roms who for the most part have recently arrived in France from Eastern Europe?

A policy of dialogue

The questions posed by these two communities which are characterised by different aspirations are not the same. And a blanket response will almost certainly prove to be inadequate. Policies that force non-French Roms, who were sedentary in their countries’ of origin, to move from one shanty town to the next, and which impose increasingly strict urban regulations that prevent French Roms from travelling in search of seasonal employment, are unlikely to yield positive results.

The long history of anti-Rom stigmatisation and discrimination in Europe can only be addressed by a policy of dialogue. And this policy should be established with preconditions on both sides: the Rom community must respect the law, and the state must ensure that the law — and in particular the Besson law on halting sites — is correctly applied. In such a context, we may be finally establish satisfactory answers to a question which has been a divisive issue in Europe for more than eight centuries. After 800 years of wandering policy, which has often resulted in tragedy, we should seize this opportunity to make definite progress.

From Bucharest

Romania will also have to make an effort

On 27 July, France officially requested a European initiative to address the problem of the Rom community, which it insisted may present an obstacle to Romania’s inclusion in the Schengen Zone, scheduled for 2011. "Could we stand to benefit from the exasperation in Paris?" wonders România Liberă. The daily notes that in its bid to call Romania to order, France, unlike Italy, "plans to deploy a powerful European instrument in the shape of a possible veto of Bucharest’s application to join Schengen."

In this regard, "Romania must accept the burden of blame for the current situation and its consequences." Instead of resolving the problem "in its own backyard," over the last 20 years, it has consistently opted for "the simplest and most cynical of solution all, which is to export it." The Bucharest daily reminds its readers that NGOs have not respected their pledge to provide support for the emergence of a Rom intellectual elite, and that the Romanian National Agency for the Roma has offered little more than a "parade ground" for different political interests, that the leaders of mafia networks operating in Western Europe "are beyond the reach of the law in Romania, where they benefit from millions of euros generated by criminal activity in France, the UK, Spain and Italy."

On this basis, the newspaper argues that "the wake-up call from Paris could do us some good.” However, if this does not happen “and the French threat become a reality, we will have successive governments in Bucharest to thank for the ultimate isolation of Romania!"

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