The Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), the Greens and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) say they are “outraged” at the closure of camps and the return – including, in some cases, the forcible expulsion – of 900 Roma to Bulgaria and Romania.
Martin Schulz, leader of the S&D group, said the “appalling” treatment of Roma people could not go unchallenged. He alleged abuse of their rights “for populist, electoral reasons”. The centre-right EPP, however, will block any attempt to criticise Sarkozy or his government.
The Parliament will discuss the Roma crisis on Tuesday afternoon (6 September). Political groups in the Parliament are now drafting resolutions that call for the EU to address the plight of Europe's 10-12 million Roma more effectively. The four most critical groups insist that they will push for a resolution that will “not mince words”.
The French government's claims that it is merely targeting criminal activity and is not discriminating against a minority have not convinced many MEPs, human rights groups, a United Nations committee or the Council of Europe.
There is also anger among MEPs that José Manuel Barroso and his European Commission have not questioned the French government's actions more vigorously. Rebecca Harms, co-leader of the Greens, accused Barroso of “standing idly by”. “Roma are Europeans too and the Commission president has a duty to defend the rights of all European citizens,” she said.
Françoise Le Bail, director-general of the Commission's justice department, will brief the Parliament's civil liberties committee today (2 September) about an analysis of the compatibility of French actions with EU rules on the freedom of movement and its Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, who tasked Commission legal experts with the study, presented a “preliminary analysis” to a meeting of European commissioners yesterday (1 September). She was assisted by Cecilia Malmström, the commissioner for home affairs, and László Andor, the commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion. The Commission has so far reserved its judgement, declining to endorse the programme launched by the French government in early August.
On Tuesday (31 August), Reding met Éric Besson, France's immigration minister, who insisted that the policy complies with EU law “in all its respects”. The same day, she met three Romanian junior ministers, who rejected French accusations that criminals were among the repatriated Roma. Separate talks between Pierre Lellouche, France's Europe minister, and MEPs from the civil liberties committee, also on Tuesday, were described by officials from the S&D group as an attempt to “whitewash” French actions. Lellouche hit back at MEPs' criticisms, calling some of them “scandalous”. He urged the Romanian government to improve integration of its Roma population.
The European Network Against Racism, a human rights lobby group, said it would organise demonstrations in front of French embassies on Saturday (4 September). The group accuses France of stigmatising the Roma population.
Besson has invited the interior and immigration ministers of Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain and the UK to a meeting in Paris on Tuesday – the same day as the Parliament debate. Roberto Maroni, Italy's interior minister, has called for the meeting to discuss the expulsion of Roma, which he favours, though Besson has not put the matter on the agenda.