Dispute over Roma dominates parliament debate


FEELINGS ARE still running high following the dispute about France’s repatriation of Roma, and the issue dominated the European Parliament debate about the European Council meeting at which the row erupted.

Amid calls for infringement proceedings to be taken against France and claims of hypocrisy on the part of those who criticised France, president of the council Herman van Rompuy insisted that while the council did not adopt an “official position”, it would “work towards better integration of minorities”, including the Roma.

Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic insisted a “very precise” legal analysis was under way on whether “EU law on free movement and on anti-discrimination has been respected” in France’s actions.

A taskforce on the integration of Roma had its first meeting yesterday and “will present its findings by the end of the year”.

Rebecca Harms for the German Greens/European Free Alliance accused the French of “effectively telling an untruth to the commission” and said an infringement proceeding against the French should be introduced as quickly as possible. She was greatly concerned that European leaders were “focusing on their domestic problems by resorting to xenophobic politicking and fomenting insecurity among their peoples on the basis of xenophobia”.

Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt said the commission had acted in the right way regarding Roma, and that values were as important as market rules. He urged the commission to “stick to its point of view, because what we are facing today is a fundamental question”.

Derk Jan Eppink of Belgium (European Conservatives and Reformists group) hit out at Mr Verhofstadt and accused him of hypocrisy. He said that in 1999 as prime minister, Mr Verhofstadt “deported groups of Roma back to Slovakia”, and “Belgium was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights”.

Joseph Daul, French leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, the grouping of President Nicolas Sarkozy, said he respected the commission’s right to check European law is implemented correctly, “but regretted the language used during the discussions on the Roma”.

He described the Roma crisis as symptomatic of the “deep-rooted malaise between these people and their host countries. If each citizen wants to enjoy these rights, they also have to respect their duties. Free circulation is a right, but we must respect the law, integrate into the host country, send children to school and ensure that other people’s rights are respected as well.”

Irish MEP Proinsias de Rossa (Labour, Socialists) welcomed the taskforce to address the integration of Roma, but said “the fundamental problem with regard to Roma and to Travellers, too, is poverty and exclusion from full participation in society”.