Tuesday 14 September 2010

Roma expulsions: France versus Europe

It was not like jumping a few red lights, but more like recklessly racing on the wrong side of the road, trying to bulldoze every approaching vehicle off the tarmac. The European commissioner for justice, Viviane Reding, was left with no choice. She finally issued a sharp statement on the French government’s targeted mass expulsion of Roma.

It is not as if the French authorities had not received warning on their muscular evictions, from the Commission, the European Parliament, EU member states, Europarties, mainstream media and EU citizens. You can look at the blog posts tagged France on Bloggingportal.eu. You can look at #Roma and other hashtags on Twitter.

The European Union is based on common values and rules. France, as one of the founding members should know – and behave accordingly – although some of the statements from the French government make me wonder at the depth of ignorance and the height of arrogance they have displayed.

I am happy to see how many French men and women have shown strong support for shared European values and adherence to our common rules. They bear no part of the shame.

Ralf Grahn


  1. Not sure I agree with Fidel Castro that Sarkozy has lost his mind, but he has made a serious miscalculation, severely weakening his position when both France and the EU need him to be strong.

    I fear that many of those French who applaud Reding's stance will also be among the first to reject any European insistence that France adhere to the common values of the single market or, heaven forbid, take an adult approach to retirement issues.

    Similarly those who have been demonstrating that English speakers do not have a monopoly of the baser forms of anti-European sentiment (cf your previous post), are, more likely than not, supporters of structural reform, but may, as a result of this episode, conceive of it in a more isolationist and protectionist context.

    So there is perhaps little overall gain, despite it being an undoubtedly good day for Ms Reding and a chance to put some sorely needed lead back in the pencils of EU officialdom.

    I'm not even sure if the Roma will be better off: with all this kerfuffle, sane and positive developments for them may be even further away.

  2. HughBS,

    Wise and world-weary words from you, although each of the crucial aspects you bring up would require both time and effort to deal with.

    Even if I dedicate some time and virtual ink to the utter ignorance and hostility among British anti-EU campaigners, I have written about negative phenomena elsewhere; in France in conjunction with de Gaulle, the European Defence Community and the European (Political) Community, Chirac, Sarkozy etc.

    At the really basic level France has (most of the time) had great ambitions for Europe in principle, but only if the Communities replicate the Hexagon and without ever being prepared to give them the necessary means.

    This is what I call the French paradox.

    France's Colbertist or mercantilist attitudes have deep roots. Generally, they have never believed that they can compete without protection, state support and intervention.

    The Economist is right when it occasionally reminds us that a Nordic social democrat is usually more free market and free trade oriented than many Southern centre-right politicians, including most of the French ones.

    Globalisation is still seen as a threat, and something to be resisted, instead of an opportunity or at least a necessity to adapt to.

    The May 2005 referendum debate and result were a sad reminder of this siege mentality (the Polish plumber).

    French history is marred by repeated attempts at reform, fought back by strikes and protests.

    The proposal to raise the retirement age to the ridiculously low age of 62 is met in the traditional manner.

    Here, as you say, president Sarkozy would need to be strong, but we have yet to see if he ends up hoisting the white flag, as so many of his predecessors.

    The Commission has been very silent with regard to the Roma in Italy and France, but as I see it, the French government left it no choice.

    There is certainly a European Roma problem, which seems almost intractable (social, education, work,crime, discrimination, will to integrate, what have you).

    'Ethnic cleansing' is, however, hardly the way to even try to solve it.

    Ultimately, we are going to need sustained pan-European efforts.

    The original events which led to the crack-down were bound to give the government tacit support by large parts of the population.

    The Roma beggars in the streets of Helsinki hardly win any popularity contests in Finland, either, and the free movement of crime is a reality.

    However, the incidents were in no way more serious than the injuries and destruction routinely following strikes, protests and nihilism by domestic union workers, suburban youth and political fringe elements as part of the French way of life.

    To end on a slightly more hopeful note, I would like to say that the European Union and the Council of Europe offer important frameworks for mutual learning and they temper the worst urges, however imperfectly and laboriously.


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