Monday, September 27, 2010

Roma Rights in the European Union.

Lately many European Union (EU) Member States experience high tensions with their Roma population. On July 28th 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a new anti-crime initiative targeting the ‘itinerant population’ with a particular emphasis on the Roma community.[1]
This decision caused much controversy within the Institutions of the European Union. On August 19th, the French government decided to begin to expel Roma , mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, as they were living illegally in the country. Foreign born Roma are often seen begging on the streets of French cities and many French people consider them a nuisance. The Roma issue gained importance for the European Union (EU) due to the accession of new Eastern European countries with large Roma populations. When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, it was determined that their citizens will enjoy full freedom of movement within the EU as of January 2014. The French government therefore, stated that the measures are in line with EU rules. [2]

The Roma make up the largest ethnic minority in the EU. They trace their origins to medieval India and settled in Europe as early as the 13th century. Historically, the Roma have been oppressed, enslaved, persecuted, expelled and subjected to ethnic cleansing during the Kosovo conflict in 1999.[3]

To a large extent, the European Human Rights platform is ill suited to effectively address the profound social, political and cultural challenges the Roma face. From the late 1990’s to 2008, Roma applicants to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) argued that they were victims of racial discrimination with respect to one or more substantive Convention rights.
Year after year, case after case, the European Court of Human Rights consistently declined to find violations of article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. [4]
As time progressed, the body of evidence documenting discrimination against the Roma accumulated in both applicants before the Court and in monitoring reports by the Council of Europe and the NGO community. It was not until 2008, that the Court ruled an incident of police brutality against a Roma victim racially motivated and breached article 14 of the ECHR in Stoica versus Romania.[5] Unfortunately, this decision did not lead to much improvement regarding the position of Roma in Europe. In July 2008, the Italian government began to fingerprint Roma adults as well as children as a government attempt to fight street crime. The Italian government stated that only Roma lacking valid identification papers would be fingerprinted and claimed the measure was designed to help Roma children who are often seen begging on the streets. [6] The European Parliament responded by adopting a resolution urging Italian authorities ‘ to refrain from collecting fingerprints from Roma, including minors as this would clearly constitute an act of direct discrimination based on race and ethnic origin. [7] Upon reviewing this policy, the European Commission, found that there was no evidence of intentional discrimination or of seeking data based on ethnic origin. Subsequently, the European Commission reversed the admonition by the European Parliament and approved the measure of the Italian government. [8]

Apart from this obvious lack of transparency, there also seems to exist a disparity in standards that are being applied to new member states and the old European Union establishment.
The European Council has required that new prospective members ratify certain non- discrimination protocols such as the European Council Framework Convention on national minorities as a precondition to granting EU membership.[9] However, not all of the old EU members have ratified the instrument. Noteworthy is that France is not a signatory to this Convention.

According to a report by Álvaro Gil-Robles, the former Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, there is a lack of political will in many places to address Roma problems. Furthermore, the report states that national authorities, particularly those in elected positions are often unwilling to implement measures under national programs for Roma inclusion because such programs are unpopular with their constituents. [10]

During the Roma Summit in 2008, José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, pointed out that the Roma problem cannot be solved by the European Union alone. He emphasized that political will as well as Roma involvement is essential to improve relations between the EU Member States and their Roma citizens. [11]
If the European Commission decides to take France to Court on the expulsion of Roma groups, it would most likely start a procedure claiming a breach of article 58 of the Lisbon Treaty which determines that Member States can only expel an individual when he or she poses a serious threat to society, not an entire community as part of an preventive anti-crime measure. [12]
As the Roma rights movement looks to the future, it is clear that legal instruments by themselves will not suffice in resolving the Roma problem. The challenge lies in finding arguments that can compel reforms outside of European courtrooms in parliaments, local governments and other centers of political power capable of translating judicial decisions into changes on the ground.[13]



Footnotes

Other sources:
Further reading
Paris: Harmattan 2009
Aldershot: Ashgate 2007
Roms, une question europeenne by F. Sarter
Database Cairn Available in House Only
Les Roms migrants en région parisienne : les dispositifs d'une marginalisation by Alexandra Nacu in Revue europeenne des migrations internationales
Database Cairn Available in House Only

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