On 9 September the European Parliament called for a halt to the expulsions. On 14 September, following the leaking of an official document of the French authorities clearly targeting Roma encampments, Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for justice and human rights, warned France: if collective discrimination were found to be taking place in France, the commission would be forced to defend the right to free movement for all European citizens, and take France to court. Since then the French government, with the support of several other heads of state, has launched a considerable counter-offensive against Reding for drawing parallels with the second world war. Whatever the inappropriateness of Reding’s parallel, she and the European Parliament were right to stand up for the rights of European citizens.
There is a considerable public mistrust of the Roma, one of the most discriminated groups in Europe over the past centuries. Many of them live in some of the worst poverty to be found in the EU. Their literacy and educational levels are typically much worse than other European citizens. None of this justifies collectively targeting them or impinging their right to free movement in the EU. What is required is a real European programme for the Roma, applied at all levels of European society. The discourse and the actions of many member states are not setting the conditions for such a program to succeed; that’s another reason why they are both objectionable and hypocritical.
The problem is not only in France. In Italy collective expulsions of the Roma are also taking place. Only a couple of years ago vigilante groups of citizens burnt down Roma encampments following politicians making speeches linking Roma with criminality. In Hungary the Jobbik party runs explicitly on anti-Roma rhetoric. In Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia organised attacks on Roma by hate groups and anti-Roma marches throughout towns have become more and more frequent. In Germany, 12, 000 Roma are going to be deported to Kosovo in the coming years; roughly half are children who speak neither Serbian nor Albanian and who came to Germany in exile from the ethnic violence of 1992. In Denmark and Sweden the Roma have had their rights to free movement curtailed, leading the European Network Against Racism to warn that a ‘culture of impunity for those who want to target the Roma is being created.’ In such a culture discrimination can only grow. Problems only get worse. For these reasons the European institutions must act to break such a culture.
Are you interested in building a future European culture of equal rights and democracy for all? Then this must be a rallying moment. European rights will come under stronger and stronger pressure as the economic crisis bites. We are defending our own rights - as European citizens - too when we defend those of the most vulnerable.
The London-based civil society organization European Alternatives has launched a petition supporting the European institutions defending European citizenship!
Lorenzo Marsili and Niccolo Milanese, Directors, European Alternatives
European Alternatives and cafebabel.com invite you, Monday 4th October 2010, from 19h00 - 20h30 at the Representation of the European Parliament in Paris (288, boulevard Saint-Germain, 75007 Paris) to a debate on the topic: "Are Roma people EU citizens like all others?"