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Minorities

France reacts to EU advocacy for Roma

French media have delivered mixed reactions to European Commission accusations that France has failed to protect Roma, including migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, under EU right-to-reside rules.

Remarks by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding that French politicians gearing up for municipal and European elections next year had sidetracked debate onto Roma migrants drew mixed reactions in the French media on Thursday.

The liberal French daily "Le Monde" accused the French government, noteably Interior Minister Manuel Valls, of treating Roma as "perfect scapegoats" with his demand that they "go home."

On Tuesday, Valls had said Roma migrants had a "duty to return to their homeland" and he refused to back down Wednesday despite criticism from rights organizations.

"Those who do not work must go home," Valls told the French broadcaster BFM.

The regional French newspapers, "L'Alsace" published in Mülhausen and "L'Est Republicain" published in Nancy, said on Thursday that nearly 20 million euros in EU funding had been unsuccessfully provided for Roma integration in Romania and Bulgaria between 2007 and 2013. "Neither Bulgaria nor Romania have solved this problem," said L'Alsace.

Debating only cliches, says Reding

Reding had told broadcaster France Info on Wednesday that French politicians had "no desire to talk about important things such as the budget or debts." Instead, they "find the Roma," she said.

Her remarks coincided with an Amnesty International study which concludes that French authorities evicted more than 10,000 Roma from informal settlements in the first half of 2013 in breach of an August 2012 central French government edict.

"The circular does not have the force of law and the Prefects are free to decide whether or not to apply it. Its discretionary nature has serious consequences for the lives of migrant Roma, "Amnesty said.

It had praise, however, for the "efforts made by some local authorities," but added that upholding EU law was an "obligation incumbent on the French state."

France is one of eight countries that restricted work permits for people from Romania and Bulgaria when they joined the European Union in 2007.

EU right to reside

European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said every European citizen, "including the minority represented by the Roma," had rights of free circulation and residence anywhere in the 28-nation EU.

Some restrictions do exist: Citizens of EU nations must show their ability to support themselves three months after taking up residency in another member state.

Integration wishes 'compounded'

Amnesty in its detailed report said more than 10,000 Roma, who object to the term "gypsy," had been evicted from informal settlements in France from January through August.

Amnesty said many Roma wished to integrate but their problems were "compounded" with each forced eviction, pushing them further out to society's margins, facing stereotypic "cliches" among France's wider population.

Roma, especially children, lacked ready access to schooling, health care and subsidized housing, Amnesty said.

Roma starting arriving in Europe from India in the 14th century and comprise eight million, with the largest population in Romania.

The Council of Europe estimates that 6.2 million Roma live within the 28-nation EU bloc, including 105,000 in Germany. An estimated 20,000 live in France.

ipj/rg (dpa, AFP, AP)

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