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Sarkozy's party picks on EU's weakest with attacks on Roma and Romania

French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s patronage of his Government’s policy of smashing up Roma camps and expelling the community from France to Romania and Bulgaria contained one serious error – it picked on a race

October 2010 - From the Print Edition

If the leader had stated that he was expelling criminals, there would have been no reason for international outrage and the move may have been legally defensible under European laws on public security.
But with documents revealing the Government was destroying illegal Roma camps as a “priority” and Roma civil rights groups doubting the French probed every evicted Roma family to see whether they - or their children - were a ‘public threat’ to France, it becomes clear that this was a racially-motivated act.
If any country is going to pick on a race, the Roma seem to be the most convenient target. The community lacks a national voice to protest. Within the EU, precedents of disbanding Roma camps already exist in Italy. Also - it has to be said - there is a strong criminal element within many Roma communities which needs to be tackled at a social and security level. Large number of migrant Roma are also citizens of the two poorest EU nations, Romania and Bulgaria, who have to maintain a careful political relationship with Europe’s bigger and richer nations.
To expel almost any other nationality would have been unimaginable. The idea of airlifting the entire Estonian expat community from Paris to Tallinn because a few Estonians have been pickpocketing on the streets of Paris would never happen - and one does not want to even think of the implications of targeting races associated with religion. But the rule seems to be - if this offends the Romanians and Bulgarians, so what? And if the Roma are angry - who is going to call up the Elysee Palace and complain? Joaquin Cortes? The Gypsy Kings?
On the upside, this is an issue where the European Commission has an opportunity to reveal its role to the rest of Europe. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding’s sturdy comments that France’s expulsions were “a disgrace” needed to be voiced by the suits in Brussels.
The French people themselves also see through the hypocrisy evident in elements of their leadership, with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner - a man with a hands-on knowledge of Roma social issues - at least coming out and expressing shock.
The French initiative is humiliating for Bucharest. Last September President Traian Basescu stated that France is Romania’s key strategic partner in the EU. France is one of the top three investors in Romania and Bucharest needs Paris’s backing for the EU to continue its large subsidies to agriculture.
Basescu was silent on condemning France’s actions and instead he appealed to the French to honour European Union laws. The irony here is that Romania is playing by the EU rules, while Paris is flaunting them.
As if Bucharest was not suffering enough, French ruling party UMP officials have made comments implying that Romania’s hope of entering the Schengen zone of free European in April 2011 is conditioned on the country’s record on Roma integration.
In the European playground, it seems Romania has finally found a role – as a bully victim.

Michael Bird

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