On the occasion of the meeting of the European Heads of State in Brussels on September 16, 2010, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, was brought to face the issues raised by France's policy concerning the collective expulsion from French territory of the Roma people of Romanian and Bulgarian origin. This policy, contrary to the European law which France has pledged to obey and hold above its own laws and regulations and detrimental to those human rights enshrined in the French Constitution and the Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, has rightly raised criticism from UN agencies, the European Parliament, the European Commissioner for Justice and the Commission itself (the very guarantor of the implementation of EC treaties). It has also been condemned by public opinion all over the world.
Warping the meaning of the words used by Mrs. Viviane Reding, the French President draped himself in the offended dignity of the "nation of human rights". He downplayed the importance of the lies of the French government concerning the guidelines given to the French police, evoked his "sovereign" right to expel "delinquents" and hinted that France was only "openly" doing what other States -albeit more discreetly- were also doing or were on the point of doing. Finally, he placed the responsibility of the present situation of moral malaise and of social violence generated by his racist exploitation of issues of residence and circulation on other European countries and on the very institutions of the European Community.
As French and European citizens, we can not accept that, in our name, the factual truth should be thus travestied and that justice should be ridiculed. Because of the ethnic criteria on which it relies and the police procedures that implement it (especially the sorting of families by sex and age and the forceful regrouping of "unwanted" individuals), the policy of "cleansing" and evictions decided in Paris during the summer of 2010 rekindles an anti-democratic and anti-Republican tradition born in the 1930s. Like Viviane Reding, we too had hoped that "Europe after the Second World War would no longer be the witness of this kind of situation". Indeed, Europe was built in opposition to its legacy of xenophobia and racism; and what is true for Europe, also applies to France.
We, therefore, demand that the French government cease those practices which are not only illegal but also contrary to Human Rights. If not, it will be necessary for the European Commission to open proceedings under European Law, as has already been suggested by the European Commissioner for Justice. We call upon our compatriots to oppose in the same way such official chauvinism and to support democratic principles, as they would have done if another European country had been challenged in this way.
We are now more at ease to say that no one should make the most of France's indignity and thus escape their own responsibilities. The persecution of the Roma people is widespread throughout the continent. It has been accompanied by professional and institutional discrimination, recurrent police brutality and sometimes even pogroms encouraged -or at least tolerated- by local authorities. The European Commission and Parliament must hold member states accountable for their complacency or for their negligence regarding the laws they apply on the rights of residence and transit of "nomads" and the use of social solidarity funds aimed at the improvement of the present situation of the Roma people. All EU Member States must embark without delay -with the support of all the democrats of Europe- on a policy of eradication of anti-Roma racism on which depends, in part, the very significance of a common political project. Europe must punish any xenophobic or racist practices of Member States, and France should not be allowed to escape this democratic requirement.
Etienne Balibar (philosopher), Jean-Loup Amselle (anthropologist), Cécile Canut (linguist), Eric Fassin (sociologist), Marie Gaille (philosopher), Tony Gatlif (filmmaker), Cécile Kovacshazy (comparative literature), Thomas Lacoste (filmmaker and editor), Christophe Mileschi (Italian studies and writer), Sophie Wahnich (historian).
Translated by Stephan Kraitsowits.
Read it in French