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