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France/EU/Roma

Published on September 15, 2010
Interview given by Pierre Lellouche, Minister of State responsible for European Affairs, to “RTL” (excerpts)

Paris, September 15, 2010

Q. – Last weekend Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, discovered, as we did, the Ministry of Interior’s infamous official circular of 5 August urging the préfets (1) to dismantle the Roma camps as a matter of priority. Hence Viviane Reding, who last week had said she understood France’s policy towards the Roma, yesterday lost her temper: “I’m very angry. You don’t expel an ethnic or racial group; tomorrow, maybe a religious group. That’s wrong. Stop!” “Stop!” What’s your answer to her?

THE MINISTER – My answer is this: first, France respects the EU institutions which we work with every day, be it the European Commission or Parliament. Secondly, the procedure under way is an ultra standard one; it exists in many areas, from hunting dates to environment legislation. The Commission is within its rights when it reminds a State of its situation in relation to its obligations. It asks it to respond, then issues a reasoned opinion, and can subsequently refer the matter to the European Union Court of Justice, which states the law.

Q. – So in your view the Commission is doing what it has to?

THE MINISTER – The Commission is within its rights. The Court states the law.

Q. – We’ll come back to this.

THE MINISTER – But the Commission can’t set itself up as a censor of the States. Nor can it… I’m sorry, without seeking in any way to stir up controversy, I’ve been trying, ever since I was appointed to this post, to find solutions to a problem people haven’t attended to for 20 years: the issue of the 11 million Roma in Europe.

So what I’m concerned about isn’t the legal controversy, but doing something. That said, as a French minister, as a French citizen, as the son of someone who fought in the Free French Forces, I can’t let Ms Reding say, as regards the treatment of the Roma issue, that the France of 2010 is the France of Vichy: you can’t talk about the Second World War. No, Roissy airport isn’t Beaune-la-Rolande or Drancy. A plane ticket for the European Union country of origin isn’t the death trains, isn’t the gas chambers, and this sort of loss of control, to which she’s added her voice, isn’t acceptable, it doesn’t help resolve the issue. (…)

Q. – Can you confirm that yesterday evening, in her capacity as European Commissioner, Viviane Reding sent you a letter…

THE MINISTER – Yes, I’ve got it here.

Q. – …which is the first step in the infringement procedure; and so you have to reply now…

THE MINISTER – No, this isn’t part of the infringement procedure. She’s questioning us…

Q. – Has the procedure now been opened?

THE MINISTER – It’s a procedure for which there is provision, and, once again, is a standard one, which is increasingly being used in a lot of sectors.

Q. – Which is spectacular here since the policy you’re following on the Roma is arousing controversy even within our borders!

THE MINISTER – Precisely, what I’d like to get to, at the heart of the bubble of hypocrisy, is the fact that we French are the only ones, since 2008 – Nicolas Sarkozy initiated the first summit on the Roma in 2008 – to have put this issue on the table, no one has done anything about it since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

There are 11 million Roma in Europe, 9 million of whom are EU citizens. The bulk of them live in dreadful conditions. A lot of them haven’t got access to school, housing or vocational training. In 2007, the Romanians and Bulgarians became full members of the EU; they had passports, they’ve come. And, incidentally, like many others, I have found them in droves on our streets. There are some in our forests…
We have withdrawn that circular and replaced it with a text which says: the camps are illegal… Regardless of who is in them, they will be dismantled with the authorization of the judges, often at the request of mayors from both Right and Left. I’m quite happy for us to discuss legalism, bits of circulars, but the fundamental question, the fundamental political question is: who has responsibility for these millions of people?

Q. – Who? The Romanians?

THE MINISTER – There are two interpretations of the treaty. Is it the country of origin, as article 2 says? This is what I’m endeavouring to do with the Romanian government. Or does absolutely anyone have the right to come, not for three months, which is European law, but for 30 years, at the host country’s expense? If this is the case, I told the Commission: if you think the directive can be rewritten, then tell the French, tell the others because I haven’t got the impression that this is European law.

Q. – That’s what you will be explaining in reply to Viviane Reding who wrote you that letter?

THE MINISTER – But we’ve already done that!

Q. – Here the request is more official on the European Commission’s part.

THE MINISTER – This is what France is doing. I’ve been to Romania three times. I’ve had six meetings with the Romanian government.

Every year we release €5 billion in cohesion funds to help the new arrivals – at least 5 billion. Romania receives €4 billion a year. We’ve said to her: please, take some of that money and use it for your own citizens. For months, the Romanian government itself has been telling us: it’s transnational. They aren’t even our nationals. That’s where we stand at the moment. (…)./.

(1) high-ranking civil servant who represents the State at the level of the department or region.

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