Reuniting Europe

The press must be crazy

Hey guys, look at those contradictory titles: EU to Take Legal Action Against France Over Gypsy Expulsions, against EU legal action ruled out against France over Roma. Or Brussels blinks in legal row with Sarkozy over Roma expulsion, and then Roma ultimatum given to France by EU: allow free movement or face court.

I could continue these series much longer. The fact is that the press has never been more confused with a Commission decision, at least as far as I can remember (I follow EU affairs since 1993).

Of course, I try to find an explanation, and I think the French propaganda has achieved some results. In particular, Paris insists that the infringement procedure is not open yet (which is not true, sending the letter is to open the procedure). In fact, on the top of the procedure, France may end up with a court case, as I think we rightly reported.

A similar situation happened over the last summit, when French President Sarkozy emerged from the meeting room and told the press he received full support from member countries, while the Commission had in his words apologized. Now we know he lied, but there was quite a confusion for a few hours.

My personal view is that the Commission is showing a brave new face, as the Parliament did, since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force. Some member countries may not like it, some journalists may not have noticed it, but Europe is different today.

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  1. The French expulsions of Roma prove that inclusion of migrants in the legal sense is not enough to ensure their equality with the natives (Penninx 4). After all, the EU grants “the right of every EU citizen to free movement within the Union” – a category under which the Romanian nationals clearly fall. But even though inequality and unequal rights do not formally exist in liberal democracies, in practice “racism and discrimination are tolerated” to a large extent (Penninx 4).

    France is certainly wary of the Roma because of its traumatic experiences with other immigrant minorities – most notably from the Maghreb and its overseas territories. These unskilled immigrants are suspected to create more unemployment, social tensions and, for the French probably worst of all, they endanger national identities (Bauer et al. 12). But ironically the French create these very problems themselves by trying to exclude immigrants from their life.

    Firstly, instead of giving the Roma money for a ‘voluntary repatriation’ to Romania (The Guardian), France could have spent the same amount on language trainings or better housing options. Video documentations from 2008 show how miserably the Roma lived in the suburbs, the banlieues, of big French cities (cf. Yet in spite of this misery, the interviewed people still said they had more in France than they ever had in Romania. Some interviewees even mentioned the wish to see their children go to university. Clearly, the Roma had an intention to assimilate and be part of French life – a wish that is fruitless without corresponding ‘top-down’ political guidelines (Penninx 8).

    Secondly, France now may have to bear the legal consequences of its actions. This does not only lead to large, unnecessary bureaucratic proceedings, it also creates a racist image of France – a reputation that can only bring negative consequences.

    Instead of trying to fight the Roma as “foreigners” or “the other,” France should realize that national identities are constantly changing. It is racist and unrealistic to hold on to an image of the French as white people with good food who are knowledgeable of the savoir-vivre.

    Sources consulted:

    Davies, Lizzy. “Roma return home and lament end of dreams of a better life in France.” The Guardian. 17 Sept. 2010.

    Penninx, Rinus. “Integration of Migrants: Economic, Social, Cultural and Political Dimensions.” New York: United Nations, 2005.

    Bauer et al. “International Labour Migration, Economic Growth and Labour Markets: The Current States of Affairs.” New York, United Nations, 2005.

  2. I acknowledge the ambiguity of the relationship between immigration issues and national identity in France. Although Frenchness was originally defined by elements such as values and civic responsibilities, independent from language, ethnicity and religion, the rhetoric of some French politicians in the past decades has clearly stigmatized immigrant communities especially when it comes to criminality, law and order. However, the question of whether French national identity is ethnically neutral or not is not the essential issue here. France and the EU are now faced with a legal problem, which is the conformity of France’s policies toward illegal immigrants with EU laws guaranteeing the free movement of people.
    The 2004 EU directive sets as a condition for stay in the country beyond three months the ability of the immigrant to sustain himself through work. The fact that Roma immigrants are poor has been invoked as a reason for justifying their expulsion by the French government. Moreover, according to the EU directive, reasons of “public order, public security and public health” can justify expulsion. French authorities have alleged violence and “human trafficking” within Roma communities (lf5422). However, in order to justify the decision of ex pulsing the whole community, they have to show that each individual actually is a real, potential threat to “public order, public security and public health” (article 27 of the directive). The legal problem is therefore the justification of collective expulsion.
    The expulsion of Roma needs to be placed in the context of ongoing tensions between humanitarianism and concerns for security since the late 1990s in France (Fassin 362-364; 366), and public safety issues, such as criminality, delinquency in immigrant communities and violent tensions since 2005 between Maghrib and Roma communities in Perpignan, Oriental Pyrenees.
    The difficulty to implement the principle of non-refoulement in cases of large-scale influx is faced by other EU countries, and the expulsion of Roma by France has a wider implication for Europe as a whole, especially a need for a coordinated program in the EU to help Romania fulfill its responsibility to protect its citizens.
    The stigmatization of France by the foreign media as a xenophobic country has the effect of undermining the criticism and awareness of French people toward the rhetoric of some French political leaders. Moreover, blaming the French natives for “trying to exclude immigrants from their life” as Jacqueline does above oversimplifies the situation by ignoring complex social and historical factors such as the difficulty of integrating immigrants into the job market, and the legacies of colonialism in Algeria. It is equally unfair to blame exclusively the French natives or the immigrants for the failure of integration. Both sides need to work together with the government at the local, national, and EU levels. After living in France for 14 years in the Paris region, I can say that first of all, all French people are not racist; and secondly, the hostile feelings of some French natives toward immigrants do not originate essentially from “old” racial prejudices, but from societal realities and urban security preoccupations.

    According to Giorgio Agamben, refugees and asylum seekers “question the original fiction of modern sovereignty” (quoted in Fassin 366). Immigrants and asylum seekers are considered “unwanted” in other European states, such as Switzerland and Italy. One could argue that it is not essentially French national identity, but the modern nation state ideology as well as the moral economy of immigration policies in the EU that are at stake.

    Consulted articles:

    “Perpignan: le meurtrier de Driss Ghaib aux Assises” published 13/06/2010 by France 2

    Fassin, Didier. «Compassion and Repression: The Moral Economy of Immigration Policies in France», Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 20, No. 3, Ethnographies of the Biopolitical (Aug., 2005), pp. 362-387.

    lf5422 (BlogActiv): Qu’est ce qu’une infraction ? Qu’est-ce que la libre circulation des personnes?

  3. First of all, there are only 15,000 Roma in all of France. That’s less than a 50th of a percent of the nation’s 62 million people. Dozens of immigrant groups in France are much larger than the Roma. Claims that expelling such a small group is necessary because of the security threat it poses seem dubious, especially given the discrimination that Roma have historically faced in Europe. France has put itself in the unenviable position of having to defend itself to the EU and the world against charges of discrimination. However, perhaps it seemed worth it for the current government to gain domestic popularity among the presumably anti-Roma French populace. This then becomes an issue of the balance between French responsibility and allegiance domestically versus within the EU.

    It seems pretty clear to me that this move is based on racial discrimination. And given the fact that the EU’s decision to issue an ultimatum is “unprecedented” (according to the French Socialist and Democrats), they likely were not anticipating such a strong response. I applaud the EU’s decision, as it will likely prevent future racially motivated policies in other EU countries, now that there may actually be consequences.

    What does all of this mean for the EU? The EU has now moved away from its mostly economic decisions in order to flex its power against one of its largest and most influential nations. This is an instance of the EU attempting to tip the scale away from national sovereignty in favor of EU sovereignty. And so far, at least in this article, this move has been met with near-unanimous support. In attempting to assert its sovereignty, France may have set gears in motion that will ultimately diminish its sovereignty.

  4. I have some issues with Jacqueline’s comment, though on the whole I agree with the sentiment that France’s policy is ineffective. Firstly, the Roma are gypsies, they are not new immigrants to France, and are not necessarily from Romania. Trying to resettle them in their homeland is difficult, since for many their homeland is unclear. The Roma is a nomadic group of people. Many have children in other countries and move about (albeit without visas or working permits), but it is not simply a matter of sending back to the town that they moved to France from. Many of them truly feel themselves to be French (there are of course Roma in the rest of western Europe as well, notably Italy). Though even if they do not seek to integrate, we cannot consider them to be normal immigrants. They are not like the Turks in Germany, who actually wish to work there legally, even if they live in their own communities. Integration is difficult for a people who have their own firm sense of identity, language, culture, and have had this for centuries (accounts of the Roma in Europe go back to the Middle Ages, though they originated in India), and for the most part are born into this subgroup. They are used to a nomadic lifestyle and are a society of their own, they are not typical immigrants. I can somewhat understand where the French government is coming from in saying that these people have no wish to integrate.
    That being said, voluntary repatriation is not a good policy to approach regarding them. They do not have a home to send them back to, and even if most French gypsies are in fact of Romanian and Bulgarian origin, we cannot simply send them back there, it is not as if they are true members of society there either. There as well, they are Roma. They do have the right to move anywhere, under EU law, and they should be allowed to settle in France. Frankly, as said they are a group that is difficult to integrate, and for the most part I think we should just let them be. They exist in most countries in Europe and have for centuries, they should be tolerated. I believe Sarkozy is only making a big deal of this policy now because the right-wing party in France is gaining more power with the upcoming elections, and they have a clear xenophobic stance. Sarkozy may estimate that xenophobia is the zeitgeist in France at the moment and wish to create a policy that would win him the support of voters. But this is not a reason to infringe upon the rights of a people.
    I believe the larger problem that this scandal points out, however, is the power of EU institutions. In the article, the EU Commission says it now has greater powers under the Lisbon Treaty. But what exactly are those powers? To have a heated exchange with Sarkozy? France is one of the founding and most powerful members of the EU. The EU Commission cannot decide to expel France from the EU, nor is it likely that sanctions will be imposed since that would hurt the rest of the EU countries as well. It is easy for the EU to say what it will do if a small country rebels, but what if France decides to simply ignore the warnings? What in truth can the Commission do? And herein, the EU is fundamentally flawed, and it is a roadblock that it must overcome if it is ever to have a comprehensive system of laws that all countries must adhere to. France has a lot to lose by not being included in the next diplomatic talks, but the EU has more to lose. Without France, it loses legitimacy.
    The impetus for a change in French policy must thus come from within, the EU can do little to enforce a policy that the French government does not approve of. What fundamentally needs to alter is the French, specifically Sarkozy’s, mindset towards the Roma, and only then can the EU Commission be effective in propagating free migration of all people. Perhaps the EU Commission should spend more time on helping to integrate the Roma or at least making their presence less offensive (there is resentment towards the Roma everywhere, but nowhere has it escalated to this level before) than on issuing unheeded threats.

  5. What is interesting to me is that the French government is deporting EU nationals that are not a threat to law and order, have not exhibited aspects of criminality, have legally immigrated to France under the EU’s free circulation of people, and are part of a recognized ethnic minority within the EU, that has lived within Europe since medieval times.

    Anti-immigrant sentiment grew in the late 20th century, and today anti-immigrant views are popular among the electorate. Civil strife and massive riots have occurred in France, antagonized by anti-immigrant policies, charges of terrorism and security threats, and perceived threats to the socio-economic position of French citizens.

    While France has deported thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma in recent years, efforts have been increased as of late to deport those who belong to “illegal camps.” In speaking of similar camps earlier in the year, the French President’s office said that they are, “sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime.”

    However, charges about the crime rate becomes a complicated issue. These people live in unincorporated, illegal communities on the outskirts of cities. Their access to basic necessities is severely limited due to their disadvantaged economic situation, and political situation in France. It is clear that a higher rate of crime accompanies a lack of basic services, financial distress, and socio-economic stagnancy or deterioration. Legally, Roma in France must be on a work-permit or residency permit to settle in France. Therefore, over time they have established these informal, unofficial communities, and are sometimes referred to as “travelers”. These are the communities that are illegal according to the French government.

    As Jacqueline mentions, the French government has “offered” to pay adult Roma 330 euros in order to return to their “country of origin”. To me, this is problematic. The 330 euros hardly makes up for complete disenfranchisement from ones “home”, however one would like to define such a broad term. The Roma have been living in and around Europe for hundreds of years, and their technical country of origin would be in India. As EU citizens, they are entitled to freedom of movement.

    The EU, the French government, as well as the Hungarian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and other governments with a large minority of Roma, should find a solution for providing Roma in the EU with access to basic services, stable living conditions, and integration into society. Once better integrated with national society, they will not be seen so much as “the other,” but part of the beauty of Europe’s multiculturalism. However, this will require the French government to adopt a more compassionate migration policy concerning Roma living in France.

  6. While negative responses towards France’s expulsion of members of the Roma population do correctly condemn the French government for singling out Roma for deportation, they seem to often make the mistake of assuming that it is primarily vitriolic and reactionary racism that drives these actions. I posit that while this certainly is the case for some, the main reason for the French decision to exclude Roma from France is grounded in sincere concern for the well-being of the Republic. It is true that France is targeting largely Roma in its efforts to clean up and dismantle illegal camps, but that is because these illegal camps tend to be inhabited by Roma. These camps are, according to the French government, hives of crime. In addition, they tend to be rather deplorable as far as living conditions go, and are not connected to the main infrastructure of the country. Bearing this in mind, it seems sensible that the French government would want to dismantle these camps. The condemnation of the French decision by Brussels also belies a lack of concern for national sovereignty, and seeks to enforce uninformed top-down rule on more local government. Of course it sounds good that all people should be included in the European vision, but the fact is that bureaucrats in Brussels are enforcing an ideological (meaning based on ideals rather than reality) vision on local French governments. While this is certainly important as far as enforcing practices related to basic human rights, it ignores the facts on the ground that inspired action by the French. Allegations compare French deportations of illegally residing Roma to actions carried out by a collaborator government during the Second World War are gross misinterpretations characterized by hyperbole. The decision to dismantle illegal communities that result in the degradation of the region is categorically different than a decision to ethnically cleanse a region of a certain type of people. Roma that live legally in towns are not affected by this action; only those that reside illegally in squatter communities are. That said, there is definitely a troubling undertone of racism in the French decision. While a policy designed to clean up a region is well within the rights of the French government, a decision to clean out the region is certainly not. Any efforts by the French to single out Roma as opposed to others living illegally are not only unjustifiable; it is wrong, and contrary to the values that characterize a modern Europe. Essentially, policy decisions that have the side-effect of the deportation of large numbers of illegally-living Roma are not necessarily bad, but any actions specifically aimed at ethnically cleansing France of this minority, either to appease xenophobic sentiments or drum up domestic political support, certainly are.

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