Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Roma Connection

(Nick-K., gipsy kid portrait)

[Edoardo Montenegro, Turin] - In an interview to the French newspaper Le Figaro, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gave his support to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy concerning his policy on immigration: "Ms Reding had better dealt with the issue privately with the French executives before speaking in public as she did. This problem of Roma is not just French. It involves every country in Europe" (1).

Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, had publicly expressed her astonishment since this year the French government has deported to Romania and Bulgaria about 8,000 Roma, who actually are European citizens, as if they could be defined criminals just on grounds of their ethnic origin: "This is a situation - she said - I thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War" (2).

On the one hand, as outlined by Barbara Spinelli, Mr Berlusconi's invitation to keep the debate private reveals the idea of a 'secret' Europe, where single States take their decisions privately notwithstanding the EU laws and principles (3). On the other hand, by forcibly repatriating Roma, France is simply following the path opened by Italy in 2002 (4).

Unfortunately, Ms Reding was not pointless in recalling the Nazi genocide of Roma people: the comparison looks indeed not inappropriate if you realize how political parties supporting extremist positions on immigration have been growing in Europe (5).

In France, Nicolas Sarkozy actually looks like adopting ineffective solutions in order to gain popularity at the expense of the Front National (6). As for Italy, at recent elections the racist Northern League got 30% in Veneto and 26% in Lombardy and is decisive in keeping Silvio Berlusconi in power (7).

Instead of fomenting racism, France and Italy should start investing to integrate Roma within their societies (8).


(1) "Mme Reading aurait mieux fait de traiter le sujet en privé avec les dirigeants français avant de s'exprimer publiquement comme elle a fait. Ce problème des Roms n'est pas spécifiquement français. Il concerne tous les pays d'Europe. Il faut donc ajouter ce sujet à l'ordre du jour du Conseil des chefs d'Etat et de gouvernment européens pour que nous en parlions tous ensemble afin de trouver une position commune. Cette question des Roms n'est d'ailleurs pas la seule qui se pose à l'Europe: il y a également l'immigration clandestine. L'Italie est particulièrement exposée du fait de l'étendue de ses côtes. L'Europe n'a pas encore compris complètement qu'il ne s'agit pas d'un problème uniquement français ou italien, ou grec, ou espagnol. Le président Sarkozy, en revanche, en est pleinement conscient. Nous espérons que la convergence franco-italienne aide à secouer l'Europe et à affronter le problème par des politiques communes." (Richard Heuzé et Etienne Mougeotte, "Silvio Berlusconi: 'Je soutiens Nicolas Sarkozy en Europe, au G8 et au G20'",, September 16th 2010).

(2) Stanley Pignal, Nikki Tait and Scheherazade Daneshkhu, "Brussels condemns France over Roma",, September 15th 2010.

(3) Barbara Spinelli, "I nemici del diritto europeo",, September 17th 2010.

(4) According to law n. 189 of December 31st 2002, also known as Bossi-Fini law, in Italy immigrants who are not able to prove that they have a job or a suitable income are not entitled to a permit of stay (Read also Elisabetta Provoledo, "On Roma, Italy acts more quietly", International Herald Tribune, September 4th 2010).

(5) Kevin O'Rourke recently recalled how the Nazi Party got 2.6% at the German elections in 1928, while in recent years the Dansk Fokepartio got 13.9%, the Dutch anti-islamic Party for Freedom got 15.5% and the Jobbik in Hungary got 16.7%. Kevin O'Rourke is Professor in Economics at the Trinity College in Dublin (Kevin O'Rourke, "La recessione aiuta i partiti estremisti",, September 16th 2010).

(6) Christopher Caldwell, "Roma reveal a rootless Europe",, August 28th 2010.

(7) Rachel Donadio effectively described the recent meeting of Umberto Bossi's party: "The Northern League gathered [in Venice] this past weekend under a blazing sun to celebrate a peculiar late-summer ritual. Stalwarts, dressed in emerald green and some wearing T-shirts with anti-immigrant slogans, poured a vial of water drawn from the Po River into the Venetian lagoon" (Rachel Donadio, "Berlusconi ally savors its rise", International Herald Tribune, September 16th 2010).

(8) Estimates say that about 10 million Roma live today in Europe: in France they are 400,000 (0.62% of total population), while in Italy they are 145,000 (0.24% of total population). According to the World Bank, the annual cost of not integrating Roma in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and the Czech Republic amounts at € 5.7 billion ("Hard travelling",, September 4th 2010).

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