Europe

Euro MPs urge EU action to protect Roma

Euro MPs have accused the European Commission of failing to protect Roma (Gypsies) deported from France.

The EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, told the European Parliament on Tuesday that she had asked France for more information about its actions.

France has expelled nearly 1,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria from illegal camps since July, in a highly controversial law and order crackdown.

Discrimination against any ethnic group or nationality is banned under EU law.

But the French Europe Minister, Pierre Lellouche, has said the expulsions are carried out on a case-by-case basis.

An Austrian centre-left MEP, Hannes Swoboda of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), said it was "scandalous" that Commissioner Reding could not adopt a firm position on the French action.

"I want to know whether the French authorities have contravened European law or not," he said, warning that other countries, "maybe Italy or Hungary", could follow France's example.

Many of Europe's 10-12 million Roma live in poverty and are marginalised, lacking access to decent housing, healthcare and schools.

Commission urged to act

A Romanian MEP in the liberal group ALDE, Renate Weber, said France's removal of Roma was similar to deportations carried out by Italy two years ago.

Image caption France defends its expulsions of Roma on grounds of public security

"The Commission shares responsibility for this new wave of Roma deportations in Europe. The Commission needs to demonstrate that it truly is the guardian of fundamental rights," she said, drawing applause from fellow MEPs.

And a French Green MEP, Helene Flautre, told Ms Reding: "I can't believe that after all these meetings you have no clear opinion... stop refusing to take your responsibility!"

She stressed that "fundamental freedoms and the European construction project are at stake here, it's a litmus test".

EU citizens' freedom of movement and equal rights are enshrined in EU rules. But member states can expel people who have been in the country for at least three months without a job or are a social burden.

Migrants can be expelled within three months of their arrival if they are deemed to be a threat to public security.

'Proof' needed

Ms Reding defended the Commission's record on the Roma issue and urged member states' governments to spend the EU funds available for Roma integration measures.

"Our legal services continue to analyse the facts on the ground. We cannot just go there and declare war on a member state," she told MEPs in Strasbourg.

"This analysis is not yet finished. There are not yet all the proofs - if there was discrimination or not... You can be assured that if there is legal evidence for France or whatever country [violating EU rules]... normally I win this in front of the court."

She said she had reminded France that it must fully incorporate into its law the EU's 2004 directive on free movement of people.

France says most of the Roma repatriations have been voluntary. France pays those who agree to leave 300 euros (£249), plus 100 euros for each of their children.

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