‘The Roma Are EU Citizens — Everywhere in the European Union’

The World from Berlin

Demostrators protest against the French government’s immigration policy in the western city of Nantes on September 4.

France’s expulsion of Roma people could be copied by other governments unless it is vigorously condemned by the European public, warn German media commentators. They argue that Brussels is right to voice its misgivings against a policy that flies in the face of the principles the French nation has stood for since the revolution.

Tens of thousands protested in France on Saturday against the government’s repatriation of Roma people to eastern Europe, chanting “stop repression” and “No to Sarkozy’s inhumane policies.”

The expulsions of Roma people this year is seen as an attempt by President Nicolas Sarkozy to revive his flagging popularity and detract from controversial reforms and spending cuts.

The French government has insisted it will push ahead with the expulsions after almost 1,000 people were sent back to Romania and Bulgaria since a government crackdown on crime and immigration at the end of July. Sarkozy is facing mounting opposition to the expulsions from rights groups, left-wing opponents and even some politicians from his own conservative camp. Under the French crackdown, Roma who agree to leave the country receive €300 euros ($387) and an additional €100 ($129) for each of their children.

Roma in Europe

Saturday’s protests also targeted the revocation of French citizenship for immigrants found guilty of attacking police officers.

According to media reports, the European Commission has doubts whether the dismantling of Roma camps and repatriations are legal, and is requesting clarification of the policy.

German media commentators say the number of demonstrators on Saturday was surprisingly low given how heated the debate has been in recent weeks. But that doesn’t necessarily reflect tacit approval of Sarkozy’s policies. In fact, even many conservative voters object to the expulsions because it runs counter to French national ideals that they still cherish — the notion that France is defined not by blood but by common values, and that the country is a refuge from persecution and a haven for human rights.

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux is pleased. Only a few tens of thousands of people turned up to demonstrations against the Roma expulsions. That isn’t very many if one considers how the debate has dominated France in recent weeks. But the modest attendance doesn’t mean the majority of citizens approves of the populist stance the Sarkozy government is taking. Even many conservative voters are turned off by the way the president is attacking weak minorities like the Roma without solving the real problem of social decay and rising crime in the suburbs.”

“France is a nation that defines itself not through blood but through common values. That gave the country tremendous attraction as a home for human rights and a refuge for the persecuted. Many French people cherish this France. They want to preserve it at a time when the integration of countless immigrants is going wrong, Islamists are preaching hate and some of the immigrant Romanis are causing problems for the police.”

“But why did so few citizens take to the streets to protest against a policy that pits the ‘real French’ against immigrants and thereby plays the race card? The answer lies in a growing fatigue with politics. But Sarkozy’s opponents are also saving their energy for Tuesday when they want to demonstrate in force against a rise in the retirement age — even though the president has the better arguments on this issue.”

Left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

“Officially it isn’t a crime yet in France to be a Roma from Romania or Bulgaria. But de facto the French government is no longer treating these European Union citizens as individuals with fundamental rights. They are being treated as enemies — as members of an ethnic group that, the government claims, arouses hostile prejudices in society and has thereby brought its problems upon itself.”

“The Roma are an easy target for a policy that is seaking cheap applause from worried citizens. Like the term ‘gypsies’ in the past, the word ‘Roma’ is being used by government propaganda as a synonym for thieves and troublesome beggars whose expulsion doesn’t require any further reason: their ethnic background suffices.”

“Who can seriously claim that these poor families who live on the fringes of society in their country of refuge and their country of origin pose a danger to France’s security?”

“This hunt for publicly branded scapegoats serves as a deterrence. The Roma are being made an example of for a policy that Nicolas Sarkozy was already considering when he was still interior minister talking about ‘selective immigration.'”

“This policy deliberately instrumentalizes existing prejudices. There is a big risk that this policy will spread from France and Italy to the rest of Europe if it isn’t rejected firmly enough by the European public.”

The Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel writes:

“The Roma are EU citizens — everywhere in the European Union. That means that Roma who come from within the EU can move freely everywhere in the bloc. And it also means that the integration of the Roma, hard though it may be, is a task for all member states: their countries of origin which are mostly in the east, and their new host countries. Those include France, Italy and not least Germany.”

“The Roma have virtually no lobby. That is why Sarkozy until recently had no problem clearing the illegal camps — until church representatives, the opposition and members of his own party started voicing their objections. His brutish policy of expulsion has also prompted the European Commission to get involved. Commissioner Viviane Reding has indicated that she won’t let the president get away so easily with his law-and-order policies. Reding’s caution is understandable given that it is not easy to prove that the French president has broken EU rules. But it is good that Brussels has shown its colors, albeit after some hesitation. After all, most EU member states have a charter of basic rights. And the inhumane treatment of the Roma is hardly compatible with that.

“Sarkozy is by no means the only European leader to be tough with the Roma. Germany’s current repatriation of Roma refugees to Kosovo poses the question: are we really checking every individual case here too?”

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Full article and photos: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,715900,00.html