EA Directors Niccolo Milanese and Lorenzo Marsili have published the following opinion piece on EUobserver, making the case for a joint European response to recent expulsions of Roma from France.We are all Roma now
Roma European citizens have the same rights as all other European citizens, and their rights must be defended, otherwise European citizenship means nothing. This fundamental principle of European citizenship is frequently being lost amidst the furore surrounding the condemnation by the European Parliament and by a member of the European Commission of the expulsion of Roma from France.
On the 9th of September the European Parliament called for a halt to the expulsions. On 14th September, following the leaking of an official document of the French authorities clearly targeting Roma encampments, Viviane Reding, the Commissioner for Justice and Human Rights strongly warned France that if collective discrimination were found to be taking place in France, then the Commission would be forced to defend the right to free movement for all European citizens, and take France to court. Since that time the French government, with the support of several other heads of state, has launched a considerable counteroffensive against Commissioner Reding for drawing parallels with the Second World War. Whatever the inappropriateness of Reding’s parallel, she and the European Parliament were right to stand up for the rights of European citizens.
It is true that there is considerable public mistrust of the Roma, just as it is true that the Roma have been one of the most discriminated groups in Europe over the past centuries, that many of them live in some of the worst poverty to be found in the EU, and that their literacy and educational levels are typically much worse than other European citizens. None of this gives any justification for collectively targeting them or impinging their right to free movement in the EU. Rather what is required is a real European program for the Roma, which is applied at all levels of European society. The discourse and the actions of many member states are not setting the conditions for such a program to succeed, and that is another reason why they are both objectionable and hypocritical.
The problem is not only in France. In Italy collective expulsions of the Roma are also taking place, and only a couple of years ago vigilante groups of citizens burnt down Roma encampments following politicians making speeches linking Roma with criminality. In Hungary the Jobbik party runs explicitly on anti-Roma rhetoric. In Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia organised attacks on Roma by hate groups, and anti-Roma marches throughout towns have become more and more frequent. In Germany, 12,000 Roma are going to be deported to Kosovo in the coming years, roughly half of them children who speak neither Serbian nor Albanian, and who came to Germany in exile from the ethnic violence of 1992. In Denmark and in Sweden the Roma have had their rights to free movement curtailed. These actions have led to the European Network Against Racism warning that ‘a culture of impunity for those who want to target the Roma is being created.’ In such a culture discrimination can only grow and the problems only get worse. For these reasons the European institutions must act to break such a culture.
For those of us interested in building a future European culture of equal rights and democracy for all, this must be a rallying moment as European rights will come under stronger and stronger pressure as the economic crisis bites. We are defending must understand we are defending our own rights as well when we defend those of the most vulnerable, our rights as European citizens.
European Alternatives has launched a petition supporting the European institutions defending European citizenship. Sign here!
Lorenzo Marsili and Niccolo Milanese
Directors, European Alternatives