For those not star-struck by the European Project (which I guess is most of us), there is a certain satisfaction in seeing, on the one hand, French President Sarkozy, and on the other, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding and Commission President José Manuel Barroso, at each other’s throats over the Roma issue.
The issue has been presented by the British press as one of discrimination against the Roma, which I think is not entirely fair. On the latest BBC “Any Questions”, the audience clearly agreed with the panellists who condemned the French out-of-hand, and were frustrated with Europe Minister David Lidington, who quite rightly adopted a masterly diplomatic neutrality.
Let’s get back to what has happened. Large numbers of people, mainly Romanian and Bulgarian nationals, have set up dozens, perhaps hundreds, of illegal camps in France, on other people’s land, where they are just as much a thorough-going nuisance, and an annoyance to local residents, as illegal gypsy camps in the UK which have caused problems and protests across the country.
It happens that virtually all of these people are Roma. The Roma are widely regarded (not least by themselves) as a distinct ethnic group. I am hard pressed to think of any other group which habitually sets up camps in this way in complete disregard for the law, except possibly the asylum seekers who set up camp by the Channel Ports (though they clearly don’t intend to remain there if they can only get across the Channel). I have no doubt the French would say, therefore, that they are not targeting Roma per se. They are not targeting an ethnic group. They are simply targeting people who have set up camps on other people’s land in defiance of the law, and the French authorities clearly have both a right and a duty to do exactly that. It only appears to be a discriminatory action against an ethnic group because, as a result of historic and cultural factors, only the Roma behave in that way. So it is impossible to target this particular group of law-breakers without at least appearing to target the Roma.
It is true that a leaked letter from a French official specifically spoke of targeting the Roma. He should not have used that phrase, but since the illegal squatters are, as we have observed, overwhelmingly Roma, it is surely an understandable mistake.
The Roma (as, say, Romanian EU citizens) have a perfect right to come to France to seek work. But if they are not seeking work, they have no right to remain and may be repatriated.
Some say that this is an assault on the Roma’s rights, and Viviane Reding, in an intemperate outburst, saw fit to make comparisons with the Nazis and the Jews (though I should be surprised if Sarkozy were building gas chambers). She, and others, say that the rights of the Roma have been violated. But hang on a minute. Which rights? The right to break the law and to appropriate someone else’s land at will? Neither the Roma nor anyone else has any such right, and if you or I attempted it the police would quite rightly move us on in short order. It’s difficult to see why the Roma might expect to be treated differently.
So before the liberals and bleeding hearts work up any more emotion on the issue, they might like to reflect on how they would feel of they woke up one morning to find a gypsy encampment on the village green, or in the municipal park. On this point (as on so few others) maybe Sarkozy has a point.
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