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Italy must face legal action for anti-Gypsy measures, says Soros

Brussels, 17.9.2008 18:06, (EUobserver)

Billionaire philanthropist and financier George Soros has said at a top-level EU conference on the problems facing Roma people in Europe that he supports legal action against Italy over recent anti-Gypsy measures, particularly the fingerprinting of adults and children.

"Certainly, fingerprinting, racial profiling and so on is unacceptable and, I believe, illegal, and I hope that the European Court of Justice will take up the case and declare it illegal," the Hungarian-born founder of the Open Society Institute said on Tuesday (16 September) in a press conference at the first "European Roma Summit" in Brussels, an event jointly organised by the European Commission and the Soros foundation.

"I am worried that this could become a de facto European standard," Mr Soros added.

Earlier this year, Mr Berlusconi's government declared a national state of emergency in response to a rise in crime blamed mainly on Romanian immigrants and announced that authorities would begin fingerprinting the Roma population.

The move was widely denounced by human rights organisations, with critics comparing the move to the policies of Benito Mussolini, the country's fascist leader in the first part of the 20th Century.

The scheme was given a green light by the European Commission in early September.

During his opening address at the summit, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was interrupted by protesters wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Stop Ethnic Profiling."

"What you have written on your t-shirts - we agree with that," Barroso said to applause from summit participants, although he refrained from commenting directly on the Italian case.

Social affairs commissioner Vladimir Spidla told a press conference that "ethnic profiling is unacceptable."

"The commission must use all the measures necessary to protect personal information," Mr Spidla said, adding that the commission would remain vigilant.

Summit

The summit in Brussels brought together government officials, Roma representatives and NGOs to draw attention to the problems facing the up to 9 million gypsies in the EU, such as widespread discrimination, high poverty and unemployment.

Despite numerous reports and inquiries, the EU has not yet managed to get a grip on how to tackle the century-long- and growing problem of antiziganism (anti-Gypsy prejudice) in Europe.

"They still represent the largest ethnic group facing extreme poverty, social exclusion and discrimination in our territory," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

"Most of their population ... live in conditions which are simply not acceptable in 21st century Europe."

Mr Barroso said member states had to actively promote education of Roma children, culturally sensitive job counselling, promotion of legitimate self-employment through management courses, microcredit and other instruments.

French urban affairs minister Christine Boutin said that while some concerns were national, the Italian controversy showed that EU countries had to co-ordinate better.

"We are working on scrapping travel paper requirements for Roma. As is the case today, those settled in a town for three years should have the right to vote. I also want them to have identity cards."

Ahead of the summit, rights groups led by Amnesty International urged the EU to tackle the problems and protect the rights of Roma people.

"Enough time has passed, there needs to be a framework with objectives and deadlines," the groups said in a statement.

Antitziganism in Europe on the rise

Unlike conquering Tatars, Mongolians and Turks, the Roma arrived on the European continent in peace-minded smaller groups, and they have never conquered a country in Europe, never fought a war and never founded a state or made claims for one.

But the hatred against Roma lives on and flourishes in Europe.

Rudko Kawczynski, president of the Roma national congress, claimed earlier this year that over 3,000 Roma had been murdered between 1990 and 2002 in eastern Europe alone.

A recent Eurobarometer survey shows that Roma are one of the main targets of racism and discrimination in some European countries.

Nobel Laureate German writer and playwright Gunter Grass has called the Roma "The True Europeans," having written in his book Without a Voice: "They feel no borders and they exist in all countries. Different from most other Europeans, who are stuck in national narrow-mindedness, the Roma can teach us what real border-transcending mobility is."

TERESA KÜCHLER
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