Euro parliament slaps France over Roma expulsions
France came under fresh fire for expelling Roma migrants Thursday as the European Parliament demanded it "immediately suspend" removal of the Gypsies.
It was the second time this week that Euro MPs had taken the floor to lambast President Nicolas Sarkozy's stand on the issue while debating the plight of Roma across Europe in general.
But France's Immigration Minister Eric Besson, in Bucharest for talks with Romanian authorities on the issue, hit back immediately, saying there was "no question" of Paris complying.
The resolution condemning France, adopted by 337 votes against 245, expressed "deep concern at measures taken by France and other member states targeting Roma and travellers."
Without naming Germany, which too has expelled Roma, or Italy, which has destroyed several illegal Gypsy camps, it urged "those authorities immediately to suspend all expulsions of Roma."
Sarkozy's decision in August to dismantle unauthorised Gypsy encampments and fly Eastern European Roma home to Romania and Bulgaria following a public order incident topped much of the agenda of this week's session of the 736-member parliament.
Turnout was high and members waved banners saying "Equal Rights for All" during the vote on the resolution, a joint motion put to the parliament by left and centrist parties.
A separate motion put by conservatives and euro-sceptics that did not explicitly condemn France failed to muster support.
The resolution adopted emphasised "the right of all EU citizens and their families to free movement and residence throughout the EU, a right which is a fundamental aspect of EU citizenship."
It stressed that "mass expulsions are prohibited" under EU law, "since they amount to discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity."
The parliament, it added, "is deeply concerned, in particular, at the inflammatory and openly discriminatory rhetoric that has characterised political discourse during the repatriations of Roma."
Besson retorted that parliament was out of line and "of course we are not going to submit to a political diktat."
"I want to say very clearly that there is no question of France suspending returns to countries of origin, whether they are Romanians, Bulgarians or any other nationality."
France touched off an international storm in August for ordering police to clear away unauthorised Gypsy camps after French travellers, angered by a police shooting, went on the rampage in a small town.
While French-born Gypsies were moved on, Eastern European Roma unable to prove they had the means to integrate into mainstream society were flown back home by the hundreds to Romania and Bulgaria.
Besson repeated Paris's line that the French government was scrupulous in observing national and EU laws.
But the European parliament resolution states that "lack of economic means can in no circumstance justify the automatic expulsion of EU citizens."
It added: "Restrictions on freedom of movement and residence on grounds of public policy, public security and public health can be imposed solely on the basis of personal conduct, and not of general considerations of prevention or ethnic or national origin."
The resolution also slammed the European Commission for its "late and limited response," notably regarding rules on freedom of movement, non-discrimination and the right to protection of personal data.
In another criticism of French policy, Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, on Wednesday likened France's rhetoric on the issue to that used by the Nazi and fascist regimes
While the remarks brought a sharp response from France, Hammarberg Thursday said he had not targeted the French government.
© 2010 AFP