Freelance Journalist based in Brussels twitter: @AlessioPisano
A not unusual tough Reding stated clearly that “the way Paris has managed the issue is a disgrace. I personally have been appalled by a situation which gave the impression that people are being removed from a Member State of the European Union just because they belong to a certain ethnic minority. This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War”. With this firm condemnation against Sarkozy’s policies against the Roma, the Commissioner stresses that such policies must not take place in the whole of Europe. To strengthen her words, Reding announced an infringement procedure request to the European Commision’s College.
“I am personally convinced that the Commission will have no choice but to initiate infringement action against France”
France has manoeuvred itself into a difficult situation on two accounts: first a discriminatory application of the Free Movement Directive, and second a lack of transposition of the procedural and substantive guarantees under the Free Movement Directive. There is an overall feeling of race discrimination, which is confirmed by the infamous French circular letter released by the Minister of Interior calling on local authorities to single out Roma communities in evacuation of illegal camp-sites. At the end of August, however, French Ministers Pierre Lellouche and Eric Besson answered to the Commissioners Reding and Malmström and assured that France had not focused only on Roma people in such policies. Now Viviane Reding expresses her deep regret as these assurances have been contradicted by another French official document. "This is not a minor offence in a situation of this importance. After eleven years of experience with the Commission, I go even further: this is a disgrace" Reding stressed.
So what happens now? The Commission is supposed to come up with a final analysis on France’s handling of Roma expulsions by the end of September, while French authorities are allowed to have a say on the situation and add more documents proving not to have violated EU law. French Minister Pierre Lellouche, however, showed a quite regrettable indifference toward Reding’s words and the Commission’s actions. “For me, who has been elected in my country, the guardians of the Treaties are the French citizens that have ratified it, through their representatives, after having rejected the European Constitution”.
In her speech on the 14th of September, Commissioner Reding clearly pointed out the fundamental role of the Commission as guardian of the Treaties. Exactly these treaties cover the two fundamental values that France has violated: “Such a discrimination is incompatible with the values on which the European Union is founded. National authorities who discriminate ethnic groups in the application of EU law are also violating the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which all Member States, including France, have signed up to”.
The European Parliament has also strongly condemned the situation in France, backing a joint resolution at the last plenary session in Strasbourg. The resolution tabled by the left wing political groups, the Greens and the Liberals, called for a prompt stop on Roma expulsion and an active intervention of the Commission. The resolution opposed a text proposed by the EPP group which houses French centre-right Members of Parliament in the EP. This text did not contain any clear reference neither to France nor to Sarkozy’s government. The approved resolution, on the contrary, demanded a strong and firm EU intervention in this affair to avoid any discrimination in Europe. “Mass expulsions of Roma people in France violate EU law and amount to discrimination on the basis of race”, it is stated in the resolution. “The lack of economic means can in no circumstances justify the automatic expulsion of EU citizens from a Member state”. The resolution regretted the late and timid reaction by the Commission. President Barroso had carefully avoided including only “France” and “Sarkozy” in his official statement against discrimination in the EU. But now the Commission cannot help addressing the country that started the expulsion of Roma, as an infringement procedure has been demanded. In response to these events, French authorities will try to justify their position, which will definitely lead to a new discussion round on Roma in Europe.