Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Reding Moment (EN)

The below video (EU Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Commissioner, Viviane Reding, making a public statement about France's treatment of Roma) deserves watching, if only for its historic importance. I don't remember having ever seen or heard a senior European Commission official using such language with regard to the government of an old, big member state like France.

It will be very interesting, and is difficult to anticipate, how the situation will develop in the coming period, in particular how the French government and other governments will react.
Below are some preliminary considerations about the signification of the moment:

  • This is a great moment for Reding personally, and for the EU principles regarding the fundamental rights of its citizens. It has been obvious for some time that France has been targeting the Roma migrants for expulsion, and that their countries of origin (primarily Romania) were in a rather weak position and not particularly committed to defending them in any serious way. The fact that the EU Commission, after taking some time to go through the bureaucratic process and diplomatic motions, takes such a strong stance represents in itself a statement that there is more to the EU than gourmet food and the power hierarchy of its member states, that there is indeed a hard core of rules and principles that can be defended.

  • The fact that Reding, an experienced, heavyweight Commissioner (she has been serving in the Commission with different portfolios for more than 10 years; currently she is also Vice-president of the Commission) is going public in this way is the political equivalent of crossing the Rubicon. She clearly set the EU Executive on a head-on collision course with the government of a key member state, over an issue on which both the French government, as well as the French president Sarkozy, have in their turn expressed strong views. From this point on, there is no other possible solution than one of the parties eventually giving in, admitting that it was wrong and reversing its stance (and for the sake of the EU, the party to give in should be France). It is quite likely that, before making this extremely strong statement, Reding has tried (and exhausted) other, more discreet approaches; and also that she has the strong backing of her fellow Commissioners and possibly of many EU member states.

  • It is likely that some other governments that have been flirting with the idea of similar anti-Roma actions may need to think again. But more generally, this development somehow damages politically the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), to which are affiliated the governing parties in France, Romania and Bulgaria (the latter two being the origin countries of the Roma deported by France), as well as in Italy (which has been also toying for some time with anti-Roma measures). When a few days ago the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the suspension of Roma expulsions from France, the EPP group opposed it, and instead proposed (but failed to gain enough support for) a milder resolution that avoided direct criticism of France. In a typical note for this political camp, a Romanian MEP from the ruling party (and therefore EPP member) lamented that the European Parliament's resolution was a "victory for the Socialists, not for the Roma" and that it was an expression of "demagoguery and of the wish to stigmatize a certain political sensitivity" (meaning, the anti-Roma sensitivity of the French government). The fact that Commissioner Reding, herself affiliated with EPP, felt necessary to make the above speech pretty much invalidates the wishy-washy attitude of many EPP-affiliated politicians, who, even when from countries directly concerned by the affair, have been busy producing rhetorical excuses for France's ethnic targeting of Roma.

  • Of course, Reding's statement by itself will not solve the conundrum of Roma integration in European societies - and on this particular aspect the apologists for France are right, condemning France doesn't make the problem go away. But what is does is nonetheless very important: it re-defines the context and the terms in which the Roma issue has to be addressed; that is, in a context of respect for their citizenship rights, and in terms genuinely compatible with Europe's stated values. 

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