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Europe's New Extreme?

Nicolas Sarkozy and the French-EU Roma controversy.

8:00 AM, Oct 8, 2010 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
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At her September 14 news conference, Reding alluded to a French interior ministry circular that was supposed to be the “smoking gun” proving beyond doubt that France was discriminating against the Roma on ethnic grounds. But even this now famous or infamous administrative circular is far less damning than it appears on first glance. In fact, on closer inspection, it proves precisely the opposite. The circular begins as follows: “On last July 28, the President of the Republic established precise objectives for evacuating illegal encampments: 300 illegal encampments or settlements should be evacuated within three months, with priority being given to Roma encampments or settlements.” This appears very damning, indeed.

Until, that is, one realizes that the French administration makes a distinction between foreign gypsies – for whom it uses the nowadays politically-correct designation “Roma” – and French gypsies, for whom it uses the even more politically-correct designation “travelling people” or “gens du voyage.” The circular in question employs this very distinction. Thus, the actual meaning of the instructions it contains is simply that priority should be given to the dismantling of camps occupied by illegal aliens. The latter are then to be “returned” to their countries of origin. Obviously, if France was deporting its own citizens because they so happened to be gypsies, then Commissioner Reding would have good reason to worry that the days of Vichy France and the Third Reich are again upon us. But this is a pure phantasm: nothing of the sort is happening.

In announcing on September 29 that the commission would be going ahead with infringement proceedings against France, Commissioner Reding appeared to walk back her earlier accusations of discrimination, merely referring now to “procedural” inadequacies in France’s transposition of the free movement directive. But that the Romanian and Bulgarian occupants of what are, after all, illegal encampments do not meet the conditions for residing in France is virtually self-evident.

When interviewed by French and international media, Romanian Roma threatened with expulsion have been perfectly open about the fact that their essential economic activity consists of begging. The latter is sometimes accompanied by ancillary – if typically unrequested – services, such as the playing of music or the squeegeeing of windshields. Needless to say, however, neither begging nor squeegeeing figure among the some 150 professions in which Romanians and Bulgarians in general are presently authorized to seek work in France. Persons who have completed advanced degrees in the country benefit from more liberal arrangements.

The full absurdity of the controversy is revealed by the fact that while France is entirely within its rights to expel the Romanian and Bulgarian gypsies, those who have been thus expelled are perfectly within their rights to take the next flight right back to France. While Romanians and Bulgarians do not yet enjoy full freedom of movement as defined in EU law, they no longer have any visa requirement for travel to other EU countries. It is common knowledge in both France and Romania that many of the “expellees” do in fact return.

Indeed, a quick expulsion can even be a profitable affair. As a “humanitarian” measure, French authorities have been paying adult foreign residents of illegal camps €300 to be flown home to their countries of origin, plus €100 for every child. Now, a one-way plane ticket from Bucharest to Paris, for example, can easily be had for less than €100. Bus tickets are, of course, even cheaper. The French Minister of Immigration Eric Besson has admitted that some expelled Roma have made a practice of returning to France and getting expelled multiple times in order to maximize their “humanitarian” compensation. French authorities have created a “biometric database” that is now supposed to prevent such repeat payments. But, as Besson has likewise admitted, they are powerless to prevent people from returning.

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