France deportation of Roma migrants reflects long-standing policy

Delphine Perrin [Research Fellow, Migration Policy Centre/CARIM Project at the European University Institute]: "In July 2010, the death of a young man killed by gendarmes when he was trying to break a roadblock was followed by two days of riots by members of the gypsy community to which he belonged. After the riots, French President Sarkozy announced a series of repressive measures against travelers and individuals in Roma communities. Whereas the events had their source in the actions of French citizens, they have then been instrumentalized by the French President and government to launch declarations and measures stigmatizing communities of French travelers, Roma migrants, and 'French people with foreign origin.'

Recent declarations and announced efforts not only violate fundamental human values, but also international law (the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed its concern), European law (European Committee for Human Rights (ECHR) prohibition of all kinds of discrimination, particularly its Protocol No. 4, which prohibits collective deportation), and French national law (French law prohibits any discrimination and call for racial hatred). The announced deportation of thousands of Roma migrants, among other actions, calls into question the compatibility of such a policy with EU Law.

The Roma migrants who are the subject of Sarkozy's measures are citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, EU Member states since January 1, 2007. For this reason, arguments against deportation include the violation of the right of circulation and residence within the EU, as well as the breach of the prohibition of discrimination.

The accession treaty concerning Romania and Bulgaria, signed on 25 April 2005, provided the opportunity for EU members to adopt national measures preventing these countries' nationals from full access to the EU labor market during a transitional period, which could not exceed seven years. France has taken this opportunity, requiring Romanian and Bulgarian employees to obtain special work permits.

These transitional measures with respect to labor, however, cannot interfere with the right of Roma migrants to move and reside freely within the EU, as prescribed by Directive 2004/38/EC [PDF] of April 29, 2004. The right of residence for EU citizens and members of their family for a period up to three months shall not be submitted to any formalities or requirements (Art. 6) and shall be retained 'as long as they do not become an unreasonable burden on the social assistance system of the host member state' (Art. 14).

It is difficult to imagine how Roma people could be such an unreasonable burden, given that French social and even medical aid is only delivered after at least a three-month stay in the country. For a period longer than three months, EU citizens have to work, have sufficient resources, or at least have comprehensive health insurance coverage to assure the host country that they will not become a burden on the social assistance system during their stay (Art. 7).

Nevertheless, if an EU citizen has not met these requirements, the host country cannot restrict that individual's right of entry and residence, grounds for which are limited to 'public policy, public security and public health' (Art. 27-1). France claims to proceed to deportations on this basis. Yet, measures taken on the first two grounds shall comply with the principle of proportionality, and be exclusively based on the personal conduct of the individual concerned, which must 'represent a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society' (Art. 27-2). The decision respecting the previous requirements shall be notified and explained to the persons concerned (Art. 30).

With a deportation policy based on collective criteria, France obviously violates EU law and does not respect EU citizens' 'primary and individual right' provided by Directive 2004/38/EC. The country infringes on substantive as well as procedural rules, and even implements what is expressly forbidden when pointing at Roma migrants as a whole - or even at Romanian and Bulgarian citizens after the Ministry of Interior recently tried to correct the line - since 'justifications that are isolated from the particulars of the case or that rely on considerations of general prevention shall not be accepted' (Art. 27-2); when invoking supposed delinquency since 'previous criminal convictions shall not in themselves constitute grounds for taking such measures' (Art. 27-2); and above all since 'member states should implement the directive without discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin, membership of an ethnic minority' (Preamble para. 31).

Despite the current attention attracted by such populist measures, this collective deportation policy is not new and has been practiced by France for years. Since the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU, France has proceeded with so-called 'voluntary repatriations' of thousands of Roma people on the basis of their national/ethnic membership, providing 'humanitarian aid' of 300 euros for each adult and 100 euros for each child returned to his country. A French association filed a complaint with the European Commission on July 31, 2008 to denounce France's violation of EU law, without any result or reaction.

Eventually, as France's recently proclaimed policy drew international media attention, on July 25, 2010 EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding expressed her concern and ordered an investigation with respect to EU law. The EU Parliament will discuss the issue with the Commission during its first plenary session, while an interim report of the Commission already regrets that French policy has not put enough emphasis on the individual circumstances of Roma individuals facing deportation.

Formally, the European Commission might send France a letter of formal notice and even launch an action with the Court of Justice for failure to fulfill an obligation. More likely, it will re-launch the debate on the integration of Roma communities in Europe, which is not likely to prevent the current French government from continuing a xenophobic policy less than two years before the next presidential election ."

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