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Better late than never - EU finally condemns France for anti-Roma policy

Tuesday, 14 September 2010
Better late than never I suppose: the EU has finally pulled its finger out and through the mouth of Vivian Reding, the Justice Commissioner has finally condemned one of its members France for deporting Roma and threatened it with lengthy legal action...

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'Enough is enough' - EU's Reding threatens France with legal action over Roma expulsions

In its first direct criticism of France, the European Commission has today expressed its massive discontent at the French government's crackdown on its population of Roma and threatened legal action while also branding President Sarkozy's policy “disgraceful”.

Over the summer, President Sarkozy and the French Government have deported about 1,000 Roma people from within its borders back to Romania and Bulgaria. The mass expulsion of a community based on its ethnicity was duly met with widespread condemnation, but not such inexplicit terms by the EU.

(That said, the European Parliament did pass a non-binding resolution in its last plenary session calling for Mr Sarkozy to end his expulsion of the Roma, calling the measures “discriminatory and contrary to Community law” and pointing out that that collective expulsions “violate European law because they discriminate based on race”.)

But now the EU message is clear: stop immediately or face lengthy legal action which she also said should be “fast-tracked”.

In her statement, Viviane Reding, a Vice-President and European Commissioner for Justice and Fundamental Rights, attacked the Sarkozy government likening the recent deportations to France's treatment of Jews during the Second World War under the Vichy Regime and said the EU had no option but to launch infringement proceedings - meaning France could be hauled before the European Court of Justice.

This development effectively represents a policy U-turn from the Commission as only a few days ago she declared that France was sending “very positive” signals on its Roma policy and even the Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, called for a truce on the issue.

I can only express my deepest regrets that the political assurances given by two French ministers officially mandated to discuss this matter with the European commission are now openly contradicted by an administrative circular issued by the same government,Ms Reding declared before a half-empty press room.

This is not a minor offence. This is a disgrace … my patience is wearing thin. Enough is enough.

Until today, Ms Reding had refused to say whether France was breaking the 2004 law enshrining freedom of movement across the EU (Directive 2004/38/EC). Romania and Bulgaria are both EU member states thus subject to this directive and the Roma deported from France are as such EU citizens. The Commission is mandated to upholding European law as laid down by EU treaties, and thus it could hardly keep schtum.

I have been appalled by a situation which gave the impression that people are being removed from a member state just because they belong to a certain ethnic minority. This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War,” Ms Reding continued.

I am personally convinced that the Commission will have no choice but to initiate infringement action against France.

I also take issue with the statements by Lallouche [Pierre, the French Minister for Europe] questioning the role of the Commission as guardian of the treaties,” she said. “The Commission's role is one of the foundations of the EU – a union which is held together not by force, but by respect of the rule of law agreed upon by all member states, including France.

No member state can expect special treatment, especially not when fundamental values and European laws are at stake. This applies today to France. This applies equally to all other member states, big or small, which would be in a similar situation. You can count on me for that.

According to EURactiv, France's Foreign Ministry have since responded to the statement with ''astonishment'' and attempted to play down the controversy surrounding France's recent Roma expulsions.

Europeans, development aid and the MDGs: 90% still support aid despite global recession

Posted on Th!nk3A special Eurobarometer report published yesterday by the European Commission, on the view of European citizens towards development aid and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has revealed that 9 out of 10 Europeans continue to express steadfast support for overseas aid despite the economic downturn and long recession.

The results of the survey (#352), which took into account the opinion of 26,500 citizens from all 27 EU member states, were released just a week before world leaders meet in New York to review progress towards this set of eight UN goals aimed at drastically reducing poverty and hunger worldwide by 2015. The summit intends to examine progress made towards achieving the MDGs that all 27 EU member states have committed themselves to.

Since articles on such reports tend to be statistic-heavy, here are some of the most intriguing findings contained within the results:

Firstly, and most interestingly, two in three Europeans (64%) believe that the EU should honour or improve its promises to increase development aid to 0.7% of GNI by 2015 (breakdown: 50% believe EU should honour the commitment to increase aid and 14% would even go beyond this).

The effect of the economic crisis on peoples’ attitude to spending can be seen in the results as more respondents than last year would now opt for maintaining development aid at current levels (15% now, 8% in 2009). However, in spite of the current age of austerity, this support, shared by a vast majority of citizens regardless of the nationality, has remained consistently high: 89% find development aid ‘very important’ or ‘fairly important’, and of these, 45% said it was ‘very important’ – a respectable increase on the 2009 survey when 39% expressed this opinion.

In terms of cooperation in granting development aid: three quarters (76%) believe that there is added value in the EU countries working together in order to avoid duplication and ensure the aid is effectively spent.

When it comes to which EU country’s population is most supportive of development aid, Sweden (96%) comes out of top just ahead of Ireland (95%), Denmark (94%), Finland (94%), Luxembourg (93%) and then the UK (91%).

Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum, the biggest number of Europeans who consider development aid as not very important can be found in Slovenia (18%), Estonia (14%) and Bulgaria (13%).

When analysing the countries that are most supportive, it is hardly surprising the results correlate with those that boast greater personal involvement in helping development countries. In the latest survey the countries where people are more actively involved are listed as: Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Malta, Luxembourg, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Belgium and the UK.

Similarly, the EU countries where people are not involved personally in the process are those where public support is lowest: Latvia, Slovenia, Estonia and Romania.

But looking ahead it would appear development aid will remain part of the thinking of governments for many years to come as the 76-page Eurobarometer report reveals that the younger and ‘better-educated’ Europeans more supportive of development aid. As was the case back in 2009, these socio-demographic groups are more likely to see greater value in coordinating development aid projects and thus be supportive of continuing them.

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