"France faces showdown on Roma at European Union summit" screams the headline of a today's article on BBC News. As it seems, the expulsions of Roma from France back to Romania and Bulgaria will be one of the main issues of the upcoming EU summit (beside the financial crisis and the rising competition from India and China).
Ms Viviane Reding, the Vice-President of the European Commission and Justice Commissioner, said she compared the measures with the persecution of Roma in WW2 (saying "This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War."). But the issue had sparkled discussion before. Among others, the Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg had already criticised the French president before (see e.g. France24), saying that "one cannot avoid the suspicion that racist viewpoints are playing role" in "the way in which the President is expelling Romanian citizens". (Later, he defended himself he hadn't explicitly said Sarkozy was racist.)
Interestingly, Schwarzenberg wasn't invited to a summit, held by France to discuss this issue on 6 September, and neither were other East European countries, not even Romania and Bulgaria (smells like Munich? "About us - without us."). Nevertheless, "the expulsions were not mentioned during the talks, at which representatives of the seven invited countries - France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom, Greece and Canada" - an interesting mix, don't you think? "- agreed to adopt faster procedures to deal with illegal immigrants whose immigration or refugee status requests have been turned down." A Canadian representative being discussing such issues in Europe, another surprise is that the visas for Czech citizens weren't on agenda... Well, they probably didn't want to get on unfriendly terms.
Anyway, I'm quite curious how this will work out. The thing is that EU Member states keep quite a lot of power in the field of immigration and despite the right of free movement within the Schengen area, settling down in another Member state is subject to national laws and criteria. And, obviously, having sufficient financial means (and health insurance) is one of the main requirements for those who want to stay longer than 3 month. I'm not sure how long the Bulgarian and Romanian Roma have been residing in France, but you see the point. I wonder whether there would be so much discussion if the group in question weren't Roma, but as a matter of fact, I think there would because there would still be nationalism in play, as the concept of being "Eureopeans", not Czechs, Bulgarians, Romanians or the French, is still a utopia.
Still, I'm not saying that what's happening is right. At the beginning of this year (or when was it - some months ago, anyway), immigrants were being sent home from the Czech Republic - here's your flight ticket and bye bye! Honestly, I don't think the EU even noticed. Because those in question then were "third country nationals", i.e. people from the outside of the European Union.
OK, one last point. A friend of mine asked me the other day if I could explain her what the situation with Roma is in the Czech Republic. She's American and she's an English tutor, and bringing various conversation topics to her students, she'd come across this issue and didn't quite know what to think. Her students have been telling her that being a Roma carries a genetic predisposition to being ill-mannered, unruly, etc. Is that really so? she asked.
Well, I don't know. But the truth is that there's a widespread prejudice in the Czech Republic (and in Europe in general). Roma are considered to be noisy, dirty, somebody who's not to be trusted, who steals, who doesn't work or if so, then digging a trench somewhere - that is, leaning against the shovel (they're inherently lazy), somebody who generally lives on social benefits and who's got a lot of children to get more benefits... It is understood that they are born travellers and therefore cannot really settle down and function in a "normal" society. Still, there are some positive features about them - what we could call their "culture" (in a narrower sense) or tradition: music, dance, perhaps clothes...
It's such a complex and sensitive issue! Let's see how the heads of the EU will tackle it.