European cooperation for the integration of the Roma
This visit is in response to the desire of both France and the European Commission to strengthen their dialogue on the conditions in which evacuations of illicit camps in France are currently taking place on French soil, and look together at ways of developing European cooperation on the integration of Roma in their countries of origin.
There has been much distorted reporting and unacceptable conflation with respect to the French government’s action.
The European dimension of Roma integration is obvious and must be taken into consideration in all Community policies. This is why Prime Minister François Fillon and President Barroso agreed to Eric Besson, Pierre Lellouche and the European Commissioners swiftly organizing this meeting.
Eric Besson and Pierre Lellouche began by stating that the aim of the evacuation of the illicit camps is to put an end to public order disturbances taking place on the site of these illicit occupations of land or premises or consequent to them:
- violation of ownership which is a principle laid down by the Constitution;
living conditions of the occupants violating the principle of human dignity and endangering public health;
illicit trafficking, crime and trafficking in human beings. Every day, vulnerable people, particularly children and disabled people, are taken from these camps into town centres and coerced into begging, prostitution and general criminal activity. Every day persistently offending lone children are picked up by the police. Culpability for all this lies with increasingly structured and increasingly violent organizations, as the Interior Minister said yesterday.
So the government was obligated to put an end to it.
Eric Besson and Pierre Lellouche also reiterated that the evacuation of every illicit camp takes place in the wake of a court decision.
Since some occupants of the evacuated camps were foreign nationals coming from other European Union Member States, the government’s priority has been to address the state of extreme economic vulnerability of most of these people.
Every one of them has been offered, individually, humanitarian aid in the context of voluntary return.
Humanitarian return assistance is provided by the French Immigration and Integration Office (OFII – Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration), which comes under my ministry. It is granted irrespective of the legal situation of the Community nationals on French soil, solely on the basis of the state of destitution and informed consent of the individual concerned.
Humanitarian return assistance can be supplemented by a reintegration grant, to support an economic development project in the country of origin.
This humanitarian and reintegration aid package for Community nationals is unequalled elsewhere in the EU. In 2009, France spent €8.2 million on helping 11,051 Romanian and Bulgarian nationals. 828 people have benefited from it since the end of July.
Government officials examine every individual’s situation in the light of his/her right of residence at the time an illicit camp is evacuated.
France applies every tenet of Community law. Directive 2004/8 guarantees the right of EU citizens and their family members to move and reside freely. But while this freedom creates rights, it also entails duties for all EU nationals: to respect law and order, not become an unreasonable burden on the social assistance system and, in the case of stays longer than three months, prove that he/she has the means to support him/herself.
Violation of these rules and abuse of rights are not acceptable either to France, or any other Member State.
When examination of an individual situation shows that one of these tenets has not been respected, France can take the action, always subject to approval by the judge, to deport the person concerned, as provided for under Community law.
No collective expulsion has been carried out. Irrespective of the consideration of each individual situation, flights may be chartered to facilitate voluntary returns. Four flights have been organized since 28 July.
Eric Besson and Pierre Lellouche stressed that the action we are taking does not target any particular nationality or ethic group. European rules have to be applied in the same way to all Community nationals, regardless of their countries of origin.
Today attention is focused on Romanians and Bulgarians, but over 500 Community nationals from other Member States were escorted to the border in 2009. And all EU countries deport Community nationals who do not comply with the 2004 directive.
Eric Besson and Pierre Lellouche wish the upshot of their working session with the European Commission to be that all Member States and European institutions must be able to share a number of essential principles.
Firstly, that the tremendous achievement of the freedom to move and reside freely is not unconditional. This freedom cannot be a pretext for illicit activities, particularly trafficking in human beings. In the 21st century, children who are nationals of EU Member States are being subjected to unacceptable treatment.
France must also recognize every Member State’s own responsibility, in accordance with the Lisbon Treaty and EU values, for the social and economic integration of its nationals. The integration policy necessitates long-term investment and daily effort. No Member State can leave its neighbours to conduct this policy in its place, even though European solidarity must be strengthened to help our partners confronting particularly difficulties.
Both the Bulgarian leaders’ statements and recent visit to Paris of two Romanian Ministers of State, have shown that everyone agrees with these principles.
Eric Besson and Pierre Lellouche will be going to Romania on 9 and 10 September./.