Human-rights organisation Amnesty International today (30 September) criticised the European Commission over its handling of investigations into France’s programme to deport Roma.
It said that the Commission had delivered “a slap in the face” to Roma people by concluding that France’s actions, while against EU law, did not constitute discrimination against a particular ethnic group.
“We’re dismayed that the Commission appears to have accepted assurances by France that its measures didn’t set out to target Roma people,” Nicolas Beger, the director of Amnesty International’s EU affairs office, said.
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The Commission yesterday announced that France had not correctly implemented EU legislation on free movement. The legislation attaches strict conditions to when member states can expel foreign EU nationals from their territory. The Commission said that rights and safeguards offered by the directive were not “fully effective and transparent” in French national law.
It gave France until 15 October to produce a plan to properly implement the directive. Otherwise, it said, it would launch infringement proceedings.
The Commission also decided, however, not to pursue France with legal proceedings for discriminating against Roma. Such discrimination is outlawed by the EU’s charter of fundamental rights.
The Commission’s decision was criticised by Amnesty, which cited a memo sent on 5 August by Brice Hortefeux, France’s interior minister, to local government officials, as clear evidence that the deportation programme is discriminatory. The memo named Roma as the priority group for expulsion.
“This sends a dangerous signal to EU governments that they can get away with abusing minorities on their own soil,” Beger said.
“The Commission has yet to show that it is able to address human rights violations properly,” he added.
A Commission spokeswoman said that their concerns about the programme being discriminatory had been allayed by “assurances” from the French government. She noted in particular that France had revised the memo to remove any reference to Roma, and so placed the emphasis on removing the inhabitants of makeshift camps, supposedly regardless of their race or ethnicity.
The deportation programme began in late July, when Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president ordered the eviction and expulsion of travellers living in illicit camps. The crackdown followed an attack by Roma on a police station in a town in the Loire, and riots in Grenoble, after police shot dead a traveller who was, reportedly, attempting to ram through a police checkpoint in a car. The French government has always claimed that the actions did not target the Roma as a group and are not discriminatory.