Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Exploiting France’s “Romagate” for party political ends? European Parliament

"I sincerely hope that following the deletion of any explicit reference to Roma in the circular in question, France will redress other legal and procedural shortcomings as well. I also hope that the European Commission will take the necessary actions if the French measures prove to be discriminative and the rights of Roma as European citizens are not fully guaranteed", said the Hungarian member of the European Parliament Lívia Járóka in a press release on the web pages of the EPP group.

So far, so good, but Járóka went on to say:

It is vital, however, that the Roma issue is not taken hostage in a squabble between the Commission and a Member State, or abused by political groups for short-sighted and cheap political purposes.

When the president of the European People’s Party Wilfried Martens welcomed the conclusions of the European Council, he said:

Also the Roma issue was discussed at the EPP Summit and all parties involved were able to air their differences in a positive and constructive manner. It is very unfortunate that our political opponents tried – unsuccessfully – to exploit this delicate issue and to use it as a weapon against us.

(I’ll leave the positive and constructive airing of differences aside, although it appeals to my sense of humour.)

EPP wrong-footed?

Our series on the French “Romagate” affair have stayed clear of party politics this far, but the government actors in Italy and France, the heads of state or government convening in the European Council, and the European Parliament (even the Commission, although tempered by the general interest) have their party political ties.

Do party politics explain some of the stances taken, such as the defensive posture of the European People’s Party?

Let us look at the European Parliament.

The summary of the Roma debate in the European Parliament showed marked differences between the political groups.

The resolution adopted by the EP plenary 9 September 2010 called for France to end all expulsions of Roma, as well as intervention by the Commission, the Council and the member states. The resolution as a whole was approved by 337 votes to 245 (with 51 abstentions).

According to the Legislative observatory Oeil, the text adopted in plenary was tabled as a joint resolution by the S&D (Socialists and Democrats), ALDE (Liberals and Democrats), Greens/ALE (Greens/European Free Alliance)and GUE/NGL (European United Left/Nordic Green Left).

This defeated the evasive or long grass motion for a resolution tabled by the centre-right EPP (European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)) group, with the lead government party in most EU member states, and the ECR group (European Conservatives and Reformists, which includes the UK Conservatives, the bigger coalition party) to wind up the discussion.

The Socialist-Liberal-Green-Left motion for a resolution also prevailed over the sovereignty oriented motion by the EFD group (Europe of Freedom and Democracy, which includes the UK Independence Party and the Italian Lega Nord).

The largest political group in the European Parliament is the EPP with 265 members. Of these, 29 (including the group leader Joseph Daul) come from France, whereas 35 are Italians, both contingents tied to the domestic government.

Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and president Nicolas Sarkozy have been the main leaders of government crackdowns on Roma, challenging what Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty called the benevolent self-image of Europe.

Even if the members of the European Parliament are joined in party political groups (Europarties), they have both their nationality and their domestic party political affiliation.

Sadly, I must say, the EP Roma resolution was not the finest hour for the European People’s Party as a defender of EU citizens’ rights. The EPP got wrong-footed by its government ties. This, in my view, explains the defensive posture. Accusations that others exploit the issue have a hollow ring to them.

Ralf Grahn