After enlargement to Central Europe in 2004 and then Romania and Bulgaria three years ago, the European Union is becoming fully aware of the existence within its borders of a veritable “underclass” of nine million Roma too often still living below the most basic standards of human dignity.
Many French people witness this at first hand, with the arrival in our cities and suburbs of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens of Roma origin, living in makeshift camps. These people, who have often never received schooling, are mainly victims of human trafficking networks, which thrive by compelling the young and elderly to beg on our streets, by introducing young girls into prostitution and forcing minors into criminal activity. It is a situation I am well aware of, as an elected representative for Paris too, and one faced by many mayors, on both right and left, throughout France. As a result of President Sarkozy and the government’s determination to end the unacceptable situation created by these illegal camps all over France, which resulted in several of them being broken up and the voluntary return of several hundred Roma to Romania, voices have been raised in Bucharest and Sofia accusing France of calling into question the freedom of movement set out in the EU treaties.
I wish to reiterate on behalf of the French government that this freedom is of foremost importance to France: it is a major achievement of the European enterprise, and especially so for those who experienced life behind the Iron Curtain. Moreover, it was one of the reasons President Chirac was the strongest advocate of EU membership for Romania and Bulgaria, when many had cast doubts over their readiness to join the EU. But it is because freedom of movement is so precious that we want to prevent it from being corrupted by criminal networks which exploit the poverty of the Roma, and this is exactly what is stipulated in Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union, which states that the free movement of persons is not unrestricted and is ensured in conjunction with measures pertaining to the "prevention and combating of crime."
On no account should it become an excuse for mass immigration.
In the last year, I have twice travelled to Bucharest to tell our Romanian friends that we were facing a serious problem which requires a common response. Following my last visit there in February 2010, we got Romania to assign four police officers to the Paris police headquarters and to appoint a specific Minister for the Roma, whom Brice Hortefeux, Eric Besson and I will meet in Paris the day after tomorrow. I will make a further trip to Bucharest with Eric Besson in September.
Despite these first positive steps, much remains to be done as regards the integration of Roma people. We are counting on Romania and Bulgaria to shoulder their responsibilities with regard to their own citizens, as, ahead of the freedom to move from one country to another within the European Union, each Member State has a duty to protect and integrate its own nationals, in line with the fundamental principles of the European Union set out in Article 2 of the Treaty: "The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities."
Given this, I must say that I was somewhat surprised to read certain remarks made by Romanian and Bulgarian officials and commentators accusing France of “deporting” Roma, when we are merely enforcing European law and conducting voluntary repatriation accompanied by financial aid funded by French taxpayers. It would be a very curious interpretation of the letter of the treaties and the spirit of the European Union to consider that the only prospect some countries can offer their Roma citizens is emigration to the richest European countries, which would consequently be responsible for their integration.
I would like to remind the Commission, which is concerned about whether France is respecting the conditions for the return of illegal Roma immigrants, that France, a founding member of the EU, is acting in full compliance with European law. During her European Union Presidency in 2008, France had already expressed an interest in this issue by taking the initiative to hold the first Summit on the Roma. The second Summit, however, which I attended last April in Cordoba, was a major disappointment both for the French government, which was expecting greater mobilisation from the European Union, and for the Roma associations themselves. We expect the Commission to be just as careful as regards applying to Roma other rights (education, work, health) set out in the treaties, and request that a substantial part of European aid (€20 billion for Romania between 2007 and 2013) be directly allocated to this end. It is for all these reasons that on France’s behalf I submitted this issue for discussion on the European Council agenda in Brussels last month, in order to mobilize all Member States with a view to strengthening European Union action.
I want to believe that now is the time to really recognize this problem, both in the countries of origin and the EU as a whole. Doing nothing would mean adding a new chapter to the story of Roma woes: used as serfs until the 19th century, deported during World War II, suppressed by the Communist regimes, will all that today’s Roma gain from European construction be the right to move from one shanty town to the next? Doing nothing would be akin to stoking the "populist excesses", which Mr Baconschi, the Romanian Foreign Affairs Minister is concerned about. Doing nothing would mean turning our backs on the very values on which the European Union is built./.