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August 19, 2019
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EU clears Berlusconi over Roma Gypsies

Italy, 5.9.2008 16:57, (timesonline.co.uk)

The centre-Right Government of Silvio Berlusconi today declared that it had been "fully vindicated" after the European Commission said the fingerprinting of Roma gypsies in Italian camps did not amount to ethnic discrimination and was in line with EU law.

Roberto Maroni, the Interior Minister, said the statement by Jacques Barrot, the European Justice Commissioner, showed that "the accusations and insults we have received were unjustified. Justice has been done".

A Commission spokesman said Brussels was satisified that in conducting a census of Roma gypsies in camps as part of its crackdown on street crime since coming to power in May, the Berlusconi Government was not seeking ''data based on ethnic origin or religion". The controversial fingerprinting programme had the sole aim of ''identifying persons who cannot be identified in any other way".

The fingerprinting of minors was only being carried out ''in strictly necessary cases and as the ultimate possibility of identification,'' the statement said. However the Commission would continue to monitor the way the survey was being carried out.

The Commission had asked the Italian Government for a detailed report on the census after an international uproar over the scheme. The Italian report was submitted to Brussels on 1 August. The Commission spokesman said there had been "good co-operation" between Italy and the Commission over the issue.

The fingerprinting campaign had been criticised by human rights organisations, Unicef, the European Parliament and the Romanian Government, on the grounds that it had inflamed anti-immigrant feeling in Italy and encouraged vigilante attacks.

In June gypsy camps in Naples were set on fire in arson attacks after a Roma girl was accused of trying to steal a baby. The Roma census was compared by both Jewish and Catholic groups in Italy to Nazi racial discrimination and persecution.

However Mr Berlusconi said the scheme was intended not only to stop gypsy children begging and stealing but also to help Roma people to integrate by drawing them into the Italian health and education systems. Mr Maroni said illegal Roma camps were being dismantled so that "those who have the right to stay here can live in decent conditions".

There are an estimated 160,000 Roma gipsies in Italy, nearly half of whom were born in Italy and have Italian citizenship. The rest are mainly illegal immigrants from the Balkans and Romania.

The crackdown on crime by the Berlusconi government has also included the controversial deployment of troops on the streets of Italian cities in joint patrols with police. While many Italians say they feel reassured as a result, the centre-Left opposition has dismissed the move as "only for show".

Critics point out that it did not prevent hundreds of supporters from Napoli football club wearing masks and wielding clubs from wrecking trains and buses "with impunity" last weekend while travelling to an away match with AS Roma at the start of the new football season. Walter Veltroni, the opposition leader, said the Berlusconi Government "only acts tough with people who do not have the vote".

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