Romania wants less French rhetoric, more action for Roma

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Romania and France should "tone down" the rhetoric and work together to improve the lot of Roma in the wake of the French government's crackdown on the minority, Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi said Wednedsday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Romanian ambassadors' annual meeting, Baconschi said he had agreed with French counterpart Bernard Kouchner to "tone down the rhetoric and seek solutions" to the Roma issues.

He and Kouchner -- who said Monday that he had considered resigning over the issue -- will publish a joint editorial in Romanian and French newspapers stressing their "common political will" to resolve the Roma issue, he added.

Baconschi however stressed that Romania "will not accept any form of discrimination against its citizens living in other European countries nor any restraint to their freedom of movement."

France launched a crackdown on Roma earlier this month, sparking international criticism and putting strain on ties with Romania.

The link between Roma and crime made by some French officials also raised concerns in France and abroad.

On Monday, Baconschi openly voiced his discontent at France sending thousands of Roma back to Romania with cash, stressing this was "not a solution" to the problem.

"Since none of the Roma sent back to Romania has a police record, how can this measure bring the criminality rate down in France?" as Paris argues, he wondered.

In exchange, he insisted on the need for "funds, political will, bilateral and European dialogue and concrete programmes" to help the minority emerge from widespread poverty.

There are about 10 million Roma and Gypsies in Europe, according to European estimates.

On Tuesday Romania's European Minister Bogdan Aurescu said the French justification for Roma expulsions on security grounds was "invalid" in talks with European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding.

Barely 1.2 percent of people indicted in France last year were Romanians, he said, accusing Paris of "incorrectly" using crime statistics.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux had argued the number of crimes committed by Romanians in Paris -- many of whom are Roma -- had increased by 259 percent in the last 18 months.

"Given that none of the 500 people repatriated so far have been jailed in Romania or France, their return seems to have been made on the suspicion of future crimes, which infringes the presumption of innocence," Aurescu stressed.

He added that France's move to impose new criteria in order to restrict freedom of movement seemed to "directly target the Roma".

"This would be an unacceptable form of discrimination. We will not accept a new curtain between the old and the new Europe."

The Romanian authorities nevertheless pledged to do more for their Roma minority, which numbers up to 2.5 million in this Balkan country, while calling for closer cooperation with France and other European countries.

"We want a European solution to Roma integration, in full respect of their freedom of movement," Prime Minister Emil Boc said.

While the European Commission voiced concern about France's policy on Roma, Bucharest called on Brussels to adopt an annual plan of action to support the minority and to reduce red tape so as to make European funds more accessible.

© 2010 AFP

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