The free movement of people was developed by the European Union (EU) to bring closer integration after the destruction of World War Two. However, it has had its problems, with some countries facing mass immigration. Recently the issue came under the spotlight in France. In 2010 France repatriated 12,000 Roma Gypsies living in ‘illegal camps’ to Romania and Bulgaria. This controversial action by the French government provoked outrage within the EU, who claimed it violated the free movement regime. In the end, no action was brought against the French government because they indicated that they would now enforce EU law properly. Additionally, the repatriation of the Roma Gypsies has been unsuccessful, with approximately 5,000 returning to France. However, the issue still raises questions as to whether the free movement regime provides enough protection for Roma Gypsies.
The free movement of persons can be found in the Race Directive 2004/38 which is headed ‘Right of Citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely’. The heading clearly indicates that the EU is encouraging people to move across borders. Nevertheless, the free movement regime has both benefits and limitations, including the removal of individuals. Since Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, they have been participants in the free movement regime. It has been reported that approximately 20,000 travellers (including Roma’s) from these countries have migrated to France. The mass movement of people is attributed to many reasons such as job and educational opportunities.
The Directive states that the benefits should be provided without discrimination, an example would be access to housing. Roma’s need sites to park their mobile homes, by not providing sites could be perceived as discrimination.
ERRC v France examined France’s domestic law and how this was developed to accommodate travellers including the Roma’s. The ERRC argued that travellers were denied housing, which led to discrimination. France maintained that they had clearly laid out steps taken to accommodate travellers, including the Beason Act, ‘which requires municipalities with a population of more than 5,000 to provide a site with facilities’ (water and electricity), however it was acknowledged that this was implemented rather reluctantly. Travellers were also only permitted to remain on these sites for a specified period. Limitations like these indicate that France is an inhospitable host.
Although the free movement of people is generally beneficial, it does have limitations, including for public policy, security or health reasons, and these can be used as a justification for removal. These are not definite and should be used in conjunction with other factors. The French government has argued that the Roma’s have been involved in criminal activities, reporting that crime committed have risen to 259 per cent in Paris alone. Furthermore, criminal activities alone are not enough to expel an individual. This was indicated in R v Boucherau where the European Court of Justice held that there must be a ‘genuine and sufficiently serious’ threat to public order. States are also required to look at the degree of integration and the individual’s relationship to their home state, illustrating that there are limitations on expulsions.
France is not alone in violation the free movement regime, both Italy and Hungary agreed with France’s right to repatriate the Roma Gypsies. However, this could possibly be to justify their expelling of Roma’s.
In 2008, Roma and other gypsies were also suffering heavy discrimination in Italy. This issue was bought to a head by the death of two young gypsy girls, whose corpses were lying on a beach, while people carried on sunbathing. This clearly shows the attitude towards gypsies and travellers in Italy.
Italy also ordered the finger printing of gypsies in order to identify illegal immigrants, and the Italian Interior Minister Robert Maroni commented that there Roma’s should be deported for violating any fundamental requirements of the free movement regime. This shows no flexibility and an unwillingness of host states, which starkly contrasts with EU’s ideals of citizenship and unity.
Roma gypsies are the ‘fastest growing ethnic minority group with numbers reaching close to 10million.This includes approximately 300,000 travellers in France demonstrating that they are a significant minority within France and the EU. With increasing numbers and a history filled with discrimination, it would seem apparent that the EU should do more to protect this group and ensure that it is not so easy for host states to violate these fundamental rights.