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Roma Issue Highlights Discord at EU Summit

September 17, 2010
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France’s decision to close Roma camps and send Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria has been a European issue since the enlargement of the EU in 2004 and 2007 allowed Roma (or Romani) to easily travel to Western Europe (see “French Roma Removal and Schengen”).  However, the French government’s defense of this decision has also highlighted some of the inherent issues of the EU.  As the Economist wrote this week, it is easy for the European Commission to criticize the French government, since the Commission is unelected and hence does not need to read opinion polls or take populist stances.  However, as the article also pointed out, it is the “commission’s role as guardian was the foundation of the European Union, ‘which is held together not by force, but by respect of the rule of law agreed upon by all member-states, including France.’”  Of course, this is not the first time that a member state government has claimed sovereignty and popular support of an initiative to try to deflect European Commission criticism.  Hence the EU has the European Court of Justice, which rules on disagreements on European law between the European Commission and member states.

Another turn of events in the Roma deportation saga has been that the issue has now caused tensions between the two main engines of the EU—France and Germany.  Apparently the French President, Nicholas Szarkozy, stated after meeting with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, that Germany would follow the French lead and start shutting down illegal camps within Germany.  Mr. Szarkoy’s comments were quickly denied by the German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle.  While the fallout from this misunderstanding is not yet apparent, it does complicate this week’s EU summit, as the attention at the summit is now squarely focused to the Roma instead of the EU’s role on the world stage.  Unfortunately for the EU, it appears that the differences within and among the member states will outshine the EU’s attempt to become a stronger power in international affairs.  For instance, the EU also failed this week to gain the right to speak at the United Nations.

The winner in all of this may in fact be the Roma, who have suddenly found their plight receiving a lot more attention in the news.  However, the EU might be the biggest loser, as its leaders confront each other and the European Commission instead of working to expand the EU’s influence.  After all, the EU also agreed to create a free-trade zone with South Korea, its first Asian partnership, yet that milestone is overshadowed by the Roma issue.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. eubeyer permalink
    October 20, 2010 7:35 am

    The New York Times reported on Oct. 30 that the EU has suspended its investigation in to France’s deportation of the Roma: “E.U. Suspends Case Against France for Expulsions of Roma” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/world/europe/20roma.html?ref=europe)

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