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France: Deportations of Roma: European Commission Assesses Recent Developments

(Oct. 4, 2010) On September 29, 2010, members of the European Commission met to discuss France's recent deportations of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria, to determine whether the French government either 1) is complying with European Union law on free movement of EU citizens or 2) is discriminating against a specific ethnic minority. (Press Release, IP/10/1207, European Commission Assesses Recent Development in France, Discusses Overall Situation of the Roma and EU Law on Free Movement of EU Citizens, Europa website (Sept. 29, 2010),

The recent situation regarding the Roma started on July 18, 2010, when about 50 “travelers” attacked the Saint-Aignan gendarme station in France and also destroyed small local businesses, following the fatal shooting of another “traveler” wanted for theft. He was shot by a gendarme after allegedly forcing his way through a roadblock. The gendarme is under judicial investigation at this time. (Roms: du fait divers à la dispute diplomatique, LEMONDE.FR (Sept. 15, 2010),

France generally distinguishes the migrant Roma, be they citizens of the European Union or not, from the “travelers” who are itinerant or sedentary in varying degrees, a larger category that does not have an ethnic connotation. Many “travelers” have French citizenship. (Commission nationale consultative des droits de l'homme, Note à l'attention du Comite des Nations Unies pour l'élimination de la discrimination raciale en préparation de l'examen du rapport de la France (July 21, 2010), CNCDH_France77.pdf.)

Following the attacks, President Nicolas Sarkozy stated, “these events outline the problems that the behavior of some Roma and 'travelers' cause.” (LEMONDE.FR, supra.) After a meeting at the presidential palace on July 28, 2010, the Minister of the Interior announced that half of the 600 illegal camps of the “travelers” will be dismantled within three months and that Roma who have infringed upon public order or committed fraud would be immediately deported to Romania or Bulgaria. The deportations to Romania started on August 19, 2010, using regular, civilian airline flights (id.).

In September, an administrative instruction (circulaire) dated August 5, 2010, issued by the Ministry of Interior and addressed to the préfets (state representatives in each département) surfaced. Its subject was the evacuation of illegal camps. The instruction specifically referred to Roma camps that were to be evacuated “as a priority.” The Minister of Interior stated that he had no knowledge of this instruction. It was annulled and replaced by an instruction of September 13, 2010, that did not target any specific groups (id).

The deportations triggered international criticism. They were condemned by numerous human rights groups, Pope Benedict XVI, and the European Commission, among others. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination asked France “to avoid” collective deportations of Roma, while the European Parliament asked France to immediately stop the deportations. The French government refused to do so, arguing that the deportations fully comply with EU law. (Id.)

Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of April 29, 2004, on the right of citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member states, provides that “Union citizens shall have the right of residence on the territory of another Member State for a period of up to three months without any conditions or any formalities other than the requirement to hold a valid identity card or passport” (art. 6.1, Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the Right of Citizens and Their Family Members to Move and Reside Freely Within the Territory of the Member States, OFFICIAL JOURNAL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION L158/77 (Apr. 30, 2004),

The right of residence for more than three months, however, is mainly conditioned upon the EU citizen being a worker or self-employed in the host Member State, or having sufficient funds for not becoming a burden on the social system of and having comprehensive health insurance in the host Member State ( 7).

The Directive further states that the freedom of movement and residence of EU citizens may be restricted “on grounds of public policy, public security or public heath.” The conduct of the individuals concerned must represent “a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society” (id. art 27). The Directive also provides for procedural safeguards when an individual is deported based on the grounds listed above (id. arts. 31-33).

Finally, the freedom of movement includes the right to work in another Member State without a work permit. However, during a transitional period of up to seven years after accession of a state to the EU, other Member States may issue some restrictions on this right to work, such as requiring a work permit and a residency permit. At present, France has in place some restrictions for the citizens from Romania and Bulgaria, although they should have free access to France's labor market as of January 1, 2012. (Free Movement: France, Information on the Transitional rules Governing the Free Movement of Workers from, to and between the New Member States EURES [the European Job Mobility portal],
(last visited Sept. 30, 2010).)

The European Commission noted that “France has not yet transposed the Directive on Free Movement into national legislation that makes these rights fully effective and transparent.” The Commission warned France that it would face infringement proceedings unless “draft transposition measures and a detailed transposition schedule are provided by October 15, 2010.” (Press Release, supra.)

The Commission, however, did not start any legal proceedings against France on grounds of discrimination. It took note of the assurances given by France “that the French authorities ensure an effective and non-discriminatory application of EU law in line with the Treaties and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.” (Id.)

The Commission is also looking at the situation of the Roma in other EU countries to determine whether infringement proceedings need to be initiated against some of them. It reiterated that the social and economic inclusion of Roma in the EU is a priority. The Commission adopted a policy document on April 7, 2010, dedicated specifically to Roma, that outlines important measures addressing the problems they face, including discrimination, poverty, a low level of education, housing segregation, and poor health. (Id.)