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Roma – European Directive – Niger/abduction

Published on September 20, 2010
European Council – Press conference given by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Paris, September 16, 2010



Q. – A question on the Roma. It would seem, according to several sources, that the discussions between you and the European Commission President were particularly lively. Could you tell us a bit more about this? Is France, today in the position of defendant, alone against the rest of the world after the condemnations of the UN, Pope, European Commission, European Parliament and our partners (…)?

THE PRESIDENT – (…) This was indeed something we discussed at lunch, and to tell things as they are, every head of State and government was shocked by the Commission Vice-President’s extreme remarks. I don’t wish to be polemical.

Ms Reding has apologized for her seriously offensive remarks, let’s leave it at that, but all the heads of State and government said they were deeply shocked at the use of such language, with historical references which deeply offended all our compatriots. And you can ask everyone, it’s a wholly unanimous view. I’d also like to say that I very much appreciated Mrs Merkel’s call yesterday evening telling me of her total solidarity. (…)

At the end of July, the French government decided to act to enforce law and order and guarantee public security on the territory of the French Republic. It isn’t the right of the French government to do this, it’s its duty. France has acted and will continue to act in strict compliance with European law and in particular Directive 2004-38 on EU citizens’ rights.

This Directive expressly provides that citizens have the right to reside within [another] European Union country, provided they have sufficient financial resources and, of course, respect law and order. The Commission – and this is its job – has asked us a number of questions.

To my mind, however, questions can’t be insults. Insults are as unacceptable as questions are normal.

We’ve answered these questions and we’ll go on answering them. It so happens that an official circular signed by an Interior Ministry civil servant, right in the middle of August, was worded in a way which could be misinterpreted. As soon as I learned of this circular it was immediately withdrawn and replaced by a new one, signed this time by the Interior Minister himself. (…)

The evacuation covered by the circular in question concerned the installation of illegal camps in France, on our territory. So we are going to go on dismantling the illegal camps with no distinction of origin or culture. Naturally, we aren’t targeting any specific group, we are aiming to dismantle all the illegal camps, whoever is in them, and quite obviously with due regard for the European treaties. The European treaties provide for freedom of movement [of its citizens], but this doesn’t mean that you can go from one country to another, set up camp on land which isn’t yours and occupy it in violation of public order.

Moreover, we reject the establishment of shanty towns on the edges of our cities. I am sorry that settlements of this type were allowed to be set up, they are degrading both for those who live in them and beside them. When you see pictures of these families’ living conditions, without water, without electricity, this isn’t my idea of France as a host country. But we can’t turn a blind eye, and I won’t turn a blind eye and the French won’t turn a blind eye to these illegal camps which are worthy neither of the Republic nor of the European ideal.

France has always faced up to her responsibilities when it comes to taking in refugees. I remind you that we are the leading destination for exiles in Europe. The leading one, and we will remain so. But this tradition of welcome won’t be fulfilled in defiance of the law. The law applies to everyone. This is the very principle of the Republic. And the principle of freedom of movement has never meant “illegal installation in defiance of the law”.

Europe can’t turn a blind eye to the existence of the illegal camps. And from this point of view, all my European Council colleagues agree, including the Bulgarian Prime Minister, and including the Romanian President whom I talked to at length. Europe can’t turn a blind eye to this matter or the others. By ignoring the real issues, you distance Europeans from Europe when we need to bring Europeans closer to Europe. And how can you believe that people will understand European institutions better and respect them more if, on the pretext of compassion, which I can understand, we encourage laisser-faire policies or practices which don’t comply with the law. Moreover, the Romanian President agreed that it was extremely difficult for him to find a solution to the Roma issue. He explained to us that his country had 1,500,000 Roma, some of whom didn’t wish to be integrated in Romania. And he asked for this question to be raised at European level and for the Commission to make proposals. We all agree on this. All agree that it’s a genuine problem, a genuine question and that it would be better to deal with it in a European framework. In fact the Commission has funds for this. And we are looking forward with impatience to its proposals. (…)

To sum up, Europe is unanimous in condemning the extreme statements. Europe is unanimous in considering that the Roma issue is an extremely worrying one, which must be handled through a European integration effort. I even told the Romanian President that it wasn’t abnormal for the primary responsibility for integrating the Roma to lie with their country, in Romania. Even though Romania isn’t the only country with gypsies.

You will perhaps be interested to know that since the beginning of August, we have carried out 355 operations to dismantle illegal camps of travellers who for the most part, virtually 100%, are French citizens.

23,000 people were evacuated and 355 camps dismantled. I’m talking about travellers. Being French, they aren’t being expelled. These evacuations take place after the decision of an administrative court (1), under the supervision of a judge.

Other operations concern illegal camps. The bulk of these other operations have involved Roma of Romanian origin and a minority of them, those of Bulgarian origin. 99 operations involving 3,450 people. To date we – these were the figures published by the Interior Ministry – have carried out 199 evacuations of Roma camps involving 5,400 people and 7 operations against 100 or so people in camps with non-Europeans – from Vietnam, Sudan, Iran and Iraq. So, all in all, over 500 illegal camps were dismantled in August 2010. Between two thirds and three quarters of the people in the dismantled camps were travellers and so French. And they accounted for 80% of the people involved. These figures speak for themselves and show, if this were necessary, that there has been no form of discrimination or targeting.

Everything has taken place under the supervision of a judge – be it a matter of individual expulsion orders or collective decisions to dismantle camps.

So there you are, I’ve tried to sum up the situation very succinctly. Of course, we will answer all the questions people ask us, but the French have to know that this policy will continue in strict compliance with the Republic’s rules.

Q. – We’ve witnessed, over the past few days, what I would call an unprecedented conflict, or at any rate verbal conflict, between the European Commission and France. Relations between you and Mr Barroso are obviously important; we’d like to know how they stand.
Was there in fact, between you and him, as several participants in today’s lunch have said – one of them used the word “scandal” – a very violent exchange?

THE PRESIDENT – (…) To tell the truth, I think that we and the Commission have the same position. Things are going to go back to normal and had there not been those extreme remarks, this would have been managed totally normally. The Commission is doing its job by asking questions, looking to see if the spirit and letter of the treaties are being respected. (…)

France will answer the questions, has begun doing so, will continue doing so. We will implement a policy which it’s our duty to implement: enforce public order and not accept illegal situations. (…)


Q. – You quoted Directive 2004-38. It’s true that the Commission is pondering the way it’s been transposed into French law. It has highlighted omissions in various places, as have other Member States. Are you ready to have another look at how this legislation has been transposed and applied in French law? (…)

THE PRESIDENT – To answer you very frankly: if it were to transpire that in the transposition, the governments preceding us, like ours, have made mistakes, we would of course correct them. (…)


Q. – What reports have you got on the seven people kidnapped in Niger last night? Do they rule out a possible implication of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM] and, more generally, do you think it’s still possible and desirable for French firms to work in that region?

THE PRESIDENT – I learned, extremely early this morning, that seven foreign nationals working in Niger had been taken hostage. And those seven foreign nationals include five French. The abductions took place during the night and in two different places in the town of Arlit. As I speak, the perpetrators of these abductions haven’t been identified, we don’t know anything for certain. Before leaving for Brussels I asked the Niger authorities to do their utmost to try and find the hostages and release them. A local investigation is under way. I have asked the French military and diplomatic authorities – Bernard Kouchner is here – to do everything we can to help resolve this abduction.

And I tell you that I’m going to leave you because I am convening a select defence council at the Elysée as soon as I get back to Paris this evening to consider what measures to take. And I want, of course, to tell the hostages’ families that France will to her utmost to release them as she does whenever hostages are taken. I can’t tell you much more for reasons to do with our hostages’ safety and also since I left Paris pretty early, I prefer [to wait] to get all the information as soon as I get back.

I want to repeat, as Bernard Kouchner has made very clear, to our compatriots in that part of the Sahel that the situation is extremely dangerous and they should remain there only under totally specific conditions. And they must be guarded. These instructions have been repeated very many times. And it goes without saying that the extremely worrying situation we are experiencing shows that we have to redouble our vigilance./.

(1) From her past, France has inherited two types of court. When the State, a local authority or a public service is involved, the administrative courts have jurisdiction, the Conseil d’Etat being the highest one. All other disputes are referred to the ordinary, i.e. civil and criminal courts.

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