The Roma in Europe - The French Experience Council of Europe Roma and Travellers Divison
Roma population around Europe, estimates

September 2013 brought another round of heated debates about the Romanian and Bulgarian Roma immigrants to Western Europe and France in particular. The French Interior Minister Manuel Valls demanded their expulsion to Eastern Europe, as, in his view, the Roma would never integrate and they should be sent back home.

He said they lived quite differently from the rest of the French society and were not making any progress or effort with integration.  He cited a French politician saying that it wasn’t France’s job to deal with the world’s misery. The statement was supported by the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius who noted that Romania and Bulgaria should not be allowed into the Schengen Zone as they are not ready to join.

The reaction of the Vice President and Commissioner responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship Viviane Reding followed soon: she said the Roma immigrants were EU citizens and as such, they had the right of free movement within the EU. Meanwhile a survey held in France in September revealed that over 70% of the French population support the prospect of Roma immigrants leaving France and going back to their home countries. The debate is not new for the EU society. Back in 2009-2010 France repatriated thousands of Roma people, thus causing the criticism of Commissioner Viviane Reding over this ‘disgrace’, as she then regarded it. The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso also disapproved of the expulsion.  

Romania reacted sharply and found no relation between Schengen and the Roma integration. The Romanian media commented that France tried to prevent the country from entering the Schengen Zone based on ‘racist’ grounds. The Bulgarian newspaper 24 Hours suggested that the European Council should meet to discuss the issue. According to Bulgarian politician Angel Dzhambazki, Western Europe has for years insisted that Bulgaria should integrate its Roma people, yet France itself has been unable to integrate them. He called such behaviour hypocritical. Bulgaria is often criticized about the failure of Roma integration in official reports from the European Commission, the US State Department, Amnesty International and others. However, the term ‘minority’ is not even present in the Bulgarian Constitution, as the Bulgarian media reminded.

France has also been trying for several years to clear unauthorized camps of the local communities of Roma people, the French travellers. Earlier in July 2013 a scandal broke out after Gilles Bourdouleix, a centrist MP said, “Hitler maybe didn't kill enough of them”. He later denied saying this, but he left his party soon afterwards. There are around 250,000 - 350,000 French travellers, the Yeniche people, present in the French society, they are a nomadic population, which is different from the Roma community in Eastern Europe. The travellers, who are mostly French citizens, have a special status that allows them to temporarily park their mobile homes during the summer in special open-air areas, which have water and electricity supply.

The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 - 2015

Eight years after the launch of The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 critics say that it has proved little to no success. The programme involves twelve European countries, mostly from Eastern Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Spain. The unsatisfactory results of the initiative prompted the European Commission in 2011 to request the 27 member states to submit long-term strategies to raise Roma living standards. In June 2013 the EU proposed measures to promote Roma inclusion.

The latest round of the debate was silenced by French President Francois Hollande who told the ministers to end the public row over France's policy towards the Roma population and pleaded for solidarity.

It seems as though for now the saga cannot be resolved by any of the affected parties, neither Romania and Bulgaria, nor Western Europe, nor the EU. It is only clear that an immediate solution is needed to this unprecedented situation.

Edited by: Réka Blazsek 
Photo Credits: Council of Europe via BBC