European Parliament to debate Roma expulsions
The situation of the Roma people in Europe will be debated by Members of the European Parliament on Tuesday at 1500 (7 September). More than 8000 Roma have been expelled from France to Romania and Bulgaria since January. The issue have stirred debate on the limits of freedom of movement and protection of fundamental rights within the European Union. MEPs will assess whether the return of Roma people this summer from France breached EU rules.
MEPs will be joined for the debate with representatives of the European Commission and the Belgian Presidency of the EU representing national governments.
Lívia Járóka is a Hungarian Member of the centre right European People's Party who is herself of Roma origin. Speaking to us she said that "the poverty and social exclusion of most Roma is a European issue and requires a strategy on its own: a common European solution is needed for a common European problem".
Referring to the action taken by France she said "the core values of the Union such as non-discrimination, tolerance, justice and solidarity, must be fully respected and the expulsion of any EU citizen must be implemented on a case-by-case basis and on the grounds of the proper judicial decisions and with the free, complete and informed consent of all the individuals concerned."
The main reason the French government has given for the expulsions is that the Roma are staying illegally in France and that some have been involved in crime.
Parliament called earlier this year for more effective measures to promote the social integration of Europe's 10–12 million Roma.
At a recent meeting of the Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee a representative of the European Commission told MEPs that the legality of the French government's expulsion of Roma people is still under examination with regard both to EU law on free movement and temporary residence (Directive 2004/38) and with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The Charter, enshrining the principle of non-discrimination, is binding to most EU countries since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty last December. The Commission has been examining evidence supplied by the French government to assess whether the returns comply with these rules.
"All European citizens have the same rights"
Ahead of the debate EP President Jerzy Buzek acknowledged that responsibility for ensure public order is - without any doubt - in the hands of national governments.
However, he underlined that "all European citizens have the same rights within the EU. No one can be expelled from a country just because they belong to the Roma minority. Taking into account that we need to improve the social integration of the Roma communities, we should avoid any discriminatory rhetoric in the discussion on this issue."
In its March resolution, Parliament criticized the "unsatisfactory progress" by countries in the social integration of the Roma. Member States should make better use of European funding opportunities MEPs stressed. In response to the EPs' demands, the Commission produced detailed plans for improving the economic integration of Roma in Europe.
Ahead of Tuesday's debate the Commission representative also judged it "important to ascertain that the 10 billion euro from the European Social Fund for including Roma people "is really spent in a way that benefits this community" by member states in which it is numerically important.
Roma in the EU
There are between 10 million and 12 million Roma in the EU, in candidate countries and potential candidate countries in the Western Balkans.
A significant number of Roma live in extreme marginalisation in both rural and urban areas and in very poor social-economic conditions. They are disproportionally affected by discrimination, violence, unemployment, poverty, bad housing and poor health standards.
Roma people living in the European Union are EU citizens and have the same rights under EU law as any other EU citizen. They have the right to stay for up to 3 months with a valid passport or identity card. For longer stays they must be economically active (work or self-employed) or have sufficient resources.
When deciding to remove an EU citizen, governments must first ensure that the decision is proportionate to the threat to public policy or to the burden on public funds that the EU citizen concerned represents.
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