Parker on the Roma people and the politics of EU citizenship in France

Discrimination against minorities, particularly the Roma minority permeates the European Union and still to this day the Roma people are subjected to widespread vilification and stereotyping throughout the Union. Owen Parker, a researcher of political science and international relations at the University of Warwick published an article in the last issue of the Journal of Common Market Studies (May 2012) entitled Roma and the Politics of EU Citizenship in France: Everyday Security and Resistance (it has already been published in September as a Working Paper). He affirms that in 2008 approximately one-quarter of all Europeans were uneasy with the idea of having Roma as neighbors and that one in five Roma have claimed to be victims of racially motivated crimes.

Parker argues that in situations where widespread racism and prejudice have occurred the European Union has responded by asserting human rights and non-discrimination in accordance with its original raison d’être as a peace project. Positive discrimination in favour of the Roma people and other historically marginalised minorities is supported by the EU in the context of its enlargement policy. It could therefore be asserted that the Union is a “normative power” and an important defender of the cosmopolitan values of integration and tolerance in the face of the sovereign and securitizing excesses of nationalism (see p. 476). Even though the Union conventionally has done a lot to prevent discrimination and racism in the European region, many have criticised the French government for its deportation of Roma people and have asked themselves how this could have occurred.

The EU-France debacle over the deportation of Roma from French territory in July 2010, started when a number of Roma, after the shooting of a 22-year-old Roma boy by the police , attacked a police station. The whole situation intensified and President Nicolas Sarkozy held a speech in Grenoble on public order and security. In this speech the President declared “war” on “traffickers” and “delinquents”, a war that would reclaim order and stability. Furthermore he referred several times to the instability in the region as being a result of immigration and claimed that the French system had failed. In this context Sarkozy proposed plans to make it possible to remove French citizenship from individuals of “foreign origin” if they commit serious crimes, e.g. shooting at the police. In his speech Sarkozy went so far as to say that at least half of the 539 illegal Roma camps should be eliminated. Reports made one month later showed that 88 camps had been cleared. So, even though the Roma minority was not a part of the shooting and riots in France, they became a subject in the discussion concerning immigration.

Many, amongst others the President’s party colleagues, asserted that the demolitions of Roma camps and the deportation of Roma people could be compared to the large-scale arrests that happened to the Jews and Gypsies during World War II. The camp clearances were also criticised outside France by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the UN Human Rights Council and the Vatican. Despite the criticism, the French government stated that discrimination did not take place, while the Commission on the other hand stressed that an ethnic discrimination might have occurred, which was later confirmed by a leaked internal document. This leaked administrative circular proved that, following the speech held by Sarkozy, French authorities had in fact been explicitly targeting the Roma as an ethnic group.

In the document it was stated that “a systematic dismantling of illegal camps, prioritising those of the Roma by local prefects who are asked to ensure that at least one significant operation” (cited by Parker at p. 479). After this had become known to the public the French government changed the wording of the document and removed the reference to the Roma minority.

The various administrative documents issued by the French authorities placed very little accent in the way of legal safeguards or references to the importance of considering individual cases on their merits. Instead they clearly called for fast camp clearances and deportations. As Commissioner Viviane Reding put it: “France did not correctly transpose the rules on free movement of European citizens and, as a result, she had robbed these citizens of essential procedural guarantees” (see more here). As a result, the Commission started infringement proceedings against France on the ground that it did not incorporate the 2004 Directive on free movement into national law, which was the reason why France could avoid numerous safeguards contained in the directive. Just hours before the expiration of the Commissions deadline the French government announced that they were going to incorporate the legal safeguards concerning the deportations of Roma people into national legislation.

This event that took place in France, however, was only the tip of the iceberg. Much before the summer of 2010 some member states of the EU, such as France, already practiced policies that discriminated ethnic minorities. Measures that facilitate deportation, taxes increase too difficult employment of people belonging to a minority or even a lack of policies to integrate them in the society of the host member state have been taken in order to defend national interests and, in a way, legally avoid the free movement of citizens. These minorities, such as the Roma, have become subject to a combination of a political realist logic of security which seeks to eliminate existential threat to community or citizenry, and a liberal logic that seeks to manage risks to the internal market as a space of mobility and economic freedoms (see at 481). In other words, the free movement is much more related to the economic aspect then to the right itself. You can go as much as you can support, integrate yourself and not become a burden to the social assistance system.

All these aspects are based on the anomaly of EU law. The 2004 Directive is clear about EU citizenship. It depends on the fulfillment of the obligations and duties of citizenship of the member state in which an individual resides. However, to achieve this is not an easy task, especially when a group or individuals are already marginalised and in an inferior condition. The failure to fulfill these conditions can result in deportation and in the removal of the rights associated with EU citizenship. The question seems to be more political than legal, since the rather vague reasons of ‘public policy, public security of public health’ leave it in the discretion of the member states to determine which are valid grounds the expulsion of EU citizens (see at 483).

As a response to the obvious discrimination of the Roma as an ethnic group, the European Commission appealed to the Roma minorities’ status as European citizens, apparently seeking, as Parker puts it, to “de-securitize” them as a group and return a discussion of their status to the realm of the liberal “normal” . Furthermore, Parker asserts that the elaboration of the Roma situation in France is “testament to the limits of de-securitization conceived in these terms” (see at 485). Hence, the category of European citizenship itself has a securitizing potential since the conditionality associated with it implies the “irresponsible and improper way to exert freedom”. To conceive citizenship as a stable base could, however, according to the author potentially be depoliticising and exclusionary. In order to avoid this the discussion concerning citizenship has to be widely interpreted and seen as an investment, where the migrant is perceived as an entrepreneur who incurs expenses by investing to obtain some kind of improvement to both the society and him/herself as a human being.

The free movement of citizens, i.e. one of the core concepts of the Union, is considered to contribute to the general wealth as well as the well-being of states, to prevent individuals to exercise this right will have a negative impact on the development of nations and on the EU itself. One of the underlying factors to segregation and discrimination of individuals is the fact that they are seen as strangers. In his article Parker points out the negative effect this term had on the Roma minorities in Europe and asserted that in order to avoid discrimination of this kind we, the European citizens, have to think differently and stop perceiving ourselves as “we and them”. He concludes that by saying that the contemporary multi-level liberal government opens the space for a variety of ongoing contingent strategies of resistance by and with marginalised groups such as the Roma, and it is to the extent that a post-national citizenship can be repeatedly (re-)politicised, rather than asserted as juridical category, that it might be ethically valued (see at 488).

Mathieu Delsol, Marijela Kokalovic, Airton Valente, and Samiya Warsame


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Örebro Universitet (Sweden)
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3 Responses to Parker on the Roma people and the politics of EU citizenship in France

  1. Stina says:

    Before the development and integration of the European Union it was each state´s concern to deal with their own migration policies. According to public international law every state has the competence to decide whether foreigners are allowed to be within their territory or not, under the principle of sovereignty. However with the creation of the European Economic Community and later, and more important, the creation of the European Union the situation has changed. The sovereignty of the member states have been limited and the principle of freedom of movement have been extended. Citizens from one member state are free to move to another member state as long as they can provide for themselves and dont become a burden on the residing state. The french government must take EU:s rules on free movement of citizens into consideration when it comes to modify migration policies, since it is no longer up for each state to regulate its migration policy on their own.

    Respect for and protection for minorities is a requirement for a state to become a member of the EU, as well as the rquirement for protection of human rights. France tried to justify the departion of Roman people on the ground of public order and security. However leaked administrative documents showed that very few cases had been decided on a case by case basis, which lead to the conclusion that the french authoritites did not considered cases concerning roman people in an objective way. The french president Nicolas Sarkozy might be right when he is considering that there are problems with migration, but to collectively judge one ethnic group of minorities is not an answer to the problem of migration. All member states have to deal with the fact that people from different backgrounds and ethnicities will be moving within the Union. Human rights most always be protected within every member state in order to comply with the EU Charter on fundamental rights, the ECHR, as well as general principles.

  2. CL says:

    “An aggravated violation of human rights.” This is how the Council of Europe called the collective expulsion of Roma from France. The negative point in this case is that ethnicity was targeted in particular. The principle of “nondiscrimination” and “human dignity” has been central to the debate. This occurs after a circular of the French Ministry of the Interior in which he was asked police to evacuate in “priority” the Roma camps. The circular was changed because of its “stigma”. In fact, it is a violation of the right of housing and warranties relating to the expulsion listed in the European Social Charter and other hand, the necessity to restore border controls in case of violation public order or national security this in consultation with other States of Schengen. (Area of Free Movement of Persons) The European community was clearly disagreeing with the French state.
    France justified the evictions in the name of public order because in the field of Community law, the expulsion of EU citizens is prohibited. In addition its current policy comes up against his original commitment in the sense that this case calls into question the aims of the Schengen agreement.
    To conclude, there is a tendency to legislate “case by case” in the sense that the legislature intervene on the basis of social facts. It is not matter to legislate for “the expression of the general will” but for the specific facts and often targeting a particular population.

  3. Richard says:

    France being one of the founders of the Union has not only the legal obligation to fully put in application the Unions regulations but also the moral obligation to take a lead in enforcing and protecting the EU regulations, given the strong position and influence France has in the league of the Union members.

    Although the Roma may cause an uneasy situation in France, but I consider that France should have instead honored its obligations to protect the minorities – remember that it is not any minority group but instead the European Union minority group and most of its members are the citizens of the Union. When the French government decided to expulse the Roma people in mass, France ignored and breached not only the international law but first of all the Union law. The Union law requires member states to take into consideration EU law in their measures taking. As long as this case is concerned, France should have taken into consideration the free movement of EU citizens which is one of the fundamental freedoms of the EU law, non-discrimination principle and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

    France may argue that those rights above mentioned are not absolute rights, and that is true. But on the other hand, I consider the measures taken by the French government far away from meeting the proportionality principle which is also one of the fundamental principles of the Union. The fact that the EU has put at the disposal of the member states the EU fund to support the integration of the Roma in their respective countries and France has less to give an account concerning the measures taken to use this funds for the integration of Roma instead of expulsing them.

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