French government eases job access for Roma

Roma squatters in Lyon, 10 Aug 12 Many Roma live on the margins of society in France and other EU countries

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The French government plans to widen job opportunities for Roma (Gypsy) migrants and cancel a tax levied on employers who hire them.

Earlier this month French police dismantled makeshift Roma camps near Paris, Lyon and Lille and sent 240 Roma back to Romania by plane.

The expulsions were criticised by human rights groups.

On Wednesday the government defended knocking down squalid camps, but also pledged new efforts to integrate Roma.

Critics said the Socialists were copying the mass clearances under conservative ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010, which sparked a row between France and Romania. At the time the European Commission also condemned the French policy.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault chaired Wednesday's government meeting on the Roma issue, where it was decided that the current 150 job sectors open to people from Romania and Bulgaria would be expanded.

Who are the Roma?

  • Nomadic people whose ancestors are thought to have left north-west India at the beginning of the 11th Century and scattered across Europe
  • EU's largest Roma minority is in Romania - more than a million
  • Many Roma in Europe are hampered by poverty, low literacy levels and discrimination

The vast majority of the estimated 15,000 Roma migrants in France are from Romania, and the rest from Bulgaria. Both countries joined the EU in 2007.

France, the UK and six other EU countries have maintained labour market barriers for workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

In France, the limitation on access to jobs, the employers' tax and work permit requirement have been barriers applying to those two EU countries but not others in the 27-nation bloc. The tax can be as high as 1,800 euros (£1,421; $2,200) per worker.

The restrictions have to be lifted at the end of next year at the latest, under EU rules on freedom of movement and the single market.

'Integration through work'

French Housing Minister Cecile Duflot called for "individual solutions that will go along with the dismantling of the camps".

She called for "integration through work, by widening and softening constraints that weigh heavily on Roma populations who wish to work, by eliminating the tax paid by the employers of the Roma and widening, in a very big way, the professions they can have access to".

The announcement was welcomed by the European Commission, which urged France to "lift all the restrictions still in place as soon as possible".

Earlier, Europe's main human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, said France must go beyond short-term measures and instead make bigger efforts to help Roma in areas such as education, housing, healthcare and employment.

The French government says it aims to get the Roma issue included on the agenda of the EU summit on 18-19 October.

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