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European Commission working meeting on the Roma issue

Published on September 7, 2010
Press conference given by Pierre Lellouche, Minister of State responsible for European Affairs (excerpts)

Brussels, August 31, 2010

THE MINISTER – I thank Eric Besson for agreeing to my very quickly telling you what the situation is on this issue, seen from where I stand, i.e. our relationship with the European Union, European Commission and Romanian government. (…)

I can tell you today that what’s important for me, seen from my perspective – but I believe it’s the government’s position too – is for us to be able not only to start talking constructively to the European Union, but above all start doing something. I believe we and the Commission are up against a huge-scale problem; we at least agree on one figure, which isn’t necessarily the case of some of the governments involved.

We think there are around 11 million Roma in Europe, of whom 9 million are fully-fledged European Union citizens. The Commission has a figure of around 1,900,000 Roma in Romania, the voluntary organizations talk of 2 to 2.5 million and the Romanian government 500,000. At any rate it’s a huge-scale problem which won’t be resolved by stigmatizing or accusing anyone but by mobilizing the EU’s resources with due regard for the Lisbon Treaty.

I am responsible for European affairs, my only objective here is for the Treaty to be applied, nothing but the Treaty – but the whole Treaty. In article 2, the Treaty recognizes fundamental rights for all European citizens. We think that it’s for each State to take care of its nationals.

Article 3 of the same Treaty recognizes freedom of movement, but this freedom of movement (…) has its limitations: it can’t be perverted to serve the interests of traffickers, particularly those in human beings. The Commission wholly agrees with this, it’s the Treaty, it’s in the letter, in the spirit of the 2004 Directive which we have scrupulously applied, not just this summer but for a number of years. And secondly – I want to stress this – a State can’t in the name of this freedom offload to a neighbouring country the task of integrating people in great difficulty. This is very clear and very important. (…)

Then after that, it’s important to us, that the European money which exists and is substantial – the Commission handed round tables on the ESF, the social fund, and this also applies to the regional funds – is used to help those who need it. In this respect I remind you that massive transfers of money are made West to East; France has become one of the top, if not the top net contributor to Europe, we are making a net contribution of €5 billion to the EU and this proportion is in fact going to rise by the end of the budgetary period in 2013. For her part, Romania is receiving €3 billion under the regional policy, i.e. a total of nearly €20 billion over the 2007-2013 period. Yet the total amount spent in Romania to help the Roma won’t exceed €80 over the whole period, i.e. 0.4% of the total grant. That’s the problem we’ve got.

I have asked our Romanian colleagues to establish an emergency plan and a medium-term plan to integrate these people who live in a state of great destitution. These start with schooling, housing, health and of course vocational training, region by region, with goals in terms of dates. I said, on France’s behalf, that our country is ready to provide every assistance in preparing this plan. (…)


Q. – Are you going to continue the ban on Romanians coming to work in France because of the Roma issue?

THE MINISTER – As regards the labour market, I’d like to make something clear because I’ve heard it said that part of the problem lies in the fact that there is freedom of movement on one side and the ban on working on the other. This is unfounded: what’s clear is that, like in fact a number of other European Union countries, France has transitional arrangements regarding Romania and Bulgaria; today 149 professions are open to Romanians in France. Yet, sadly, in many cases it isn’t access to the labour market which presents a problem; as far as I know, the babies I see used for begging in my own constituency in Paris aren’t seeking jobs./.

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