- France - Roma people - Romania
EU parliament urges France to suspend Roma expulsions
The European Parliament voted on Thursday to condemn France’s policy of deporting Roma, as two French ministers travelled to Bucharest to seek greater cooperation on the issue with the Romanian government.
The European Parliament voted Thursday to demand an immediate suspension of France’s deportations of Roma even as French Immigration Minister Eric Besson and Secretary of State for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche travelled to Bucharest for meetings with their Romanian counterparts on the touchy issue.
A resolution calling for the end of expulsions attracted 337 votes from MEPs while 245 voted against it.
Following the vote, Besson said in a statement that suspending the expulsions was “out of the question”.
The vote came amid intensifying criticism of France’s controversial policy, with Romania claiming that France has been flouting European Union rules by expelling Roma immigrants.
"The French government is acting outside the norms of a European state," Romanian President Traian Basescu said just before the vote in the EU parliament. Basescu cited 500 Roma, also known as Gypsies, whom he said had been deported from France to Romania despite having committed no infraction.
Basescu noted, however, that Romania's government and the Roma themselves also shared responsibility for the current situation, adding that he hoped the visit by the French ministers would help the two countries find a common solution.
Tensions between the Paris and Bucharest appeared to wind down further when Besson and Romania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Teodor Baconschi released a joint statement Thursday saying that the two countries had agreed to end the “sterile debate” over France’s policy of deporting Roma.
According to FRANCE 24 correspondent Sanda Nicola, it is in Romania's interest to proceed with caution when addressing the issue with French ministers “in order not to jeopardise the privileged relationship Romania has with France”. One reason, Nicola said, is that “Romania is counting on French support for its accession to the Schengen area”.
The Schengen area comprises 25 European countries who have agreed to allow residents to travel freely between them without border controls. Romania is currently under evaluation to join Schengen in 2011.
Mounting criticism of French approach
France has faced widespread criticism for expelling nearly 1,000 Roma to Bulgaria and Romania since the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a high-profile security crackdown in June. The UN’s racism watchdog and the Vatican, as well as high-profile French officials from both sides of the political aisle, said the government’s initiatives unfairly stigmatised immigrant communities.
In a speech before the European Parliament on Tuesday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso delivered a veiled rebuke of France’s expulsion of Roma migrants, saying the rights of citizens must be respected everywhere in the EU. The EU Commission has asked France to provide evidence that the expulsions are in line with EU laws on the free movement of people and that they comply with anti-discrimination rules.
Last month, two Romanian ministers travelled to Paris to meet with Lellouche, Besson, and French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux. After the meeting, the officials pledged to cooperate more closely on the reintegration of Roma into Romanian society.
Romania is estimated to have between 530,000 and 2.5 million Roma, many of whom have migrated to other European countries such as Spain and Italy. Official estimates put the Roma population in France at around 15,000.
While France has criticised Romania for not fulfilling its obligations toward its Roma citizens, Basescu had warned that Thursday’s visit by French ministers would be “useless” if the ministers were there to lecture Romania.
Basescu has pointed to Romanian initiatives to accommodate its Roma minority, such as “a number of spots reserved for Roma notably in schools, universities, and other institutions”. But in a newspaper editorial published on Thursday, the Romanian president reiterated his call for Europe-wide initiatives as the only durable approach to what has now become a hotly debated issue across the continent.