More on the EU and the Roma

In response to reader Scott, who raises some good points on my last post:

Romania is near to being the most impoverished country in Europe, and if there are no jobs in Romania workers will go where the jobs are. I would label them economic refugees (forced migration through economic necessity).

First off, I’d draw a distinction between Romanians of Romanian descent (of which there are more than a few in Italy) and Romanians who claim Roma descent. The former group has certainly felt this, which is why the Romanian state funded an ad campaign in Italy called “Romania, piacere di conoscerti” (Romania, pleased to meet you) showing the positive contributions that Romanian transplants to the belpaese have made. Divisive, surely, but it did underline a difference that many Italians were failing to see.

However, I find it ironic that French taxpayer dollars are basically paying for Roma vacations. They are deported, go home to see family and friends, and then return to France where they are let right back in. Does that make any sense?

Secondly, you’re right about the lack of fiscal prudence in deporting undocumented immigrants. There’s doubtlessly something cosmetic about deportation; in the specific case of the LN in Italy, the very small number of deportations actually carried out is in inverse proportion to the media attention they’re given, which is of course healthy for the League’s populist base. I would wager that, given the poor showing of Sarkozy’s UMP party in recent regional election, that something similar might be going on in France. After all, isn’t deportation the ultimate failure of any meaningful immigration policy?

I also suspect that other world leaders are secretly jealous of the bravado of Sarkozy and Maroni, and wish they could enact such policies yet with an even more hardline stance.

Every politician wants to be seen as “tough on crime,” no matter who commits it (indigenous or migrant populations) – just look at the rising number of Americans behind bars for minor crimes, serving those multi-century sentences that were formerly reserved for triple-named celebrity serial killers. (The Economist recently ran an excellent piece on this.)

The state has always made it clear that there is no place for nomadism in industrialized nations.

But I’m unsure of your assertion that states necessarily frown on nomadism. Look at the empires created in medieval central Asia, the Chinese in southeast Asia, or, perhaps most germane to a Westerner, the Jews in Europe. And I don’t think the crimes of the Third Reich against European Jews and Gypsies were necessarily a product of statism per se.

At any rate, the presences of large groups of nomadic people in southeastern Europe – their economic needs and ability, their habits and culture – should not have been lost on the European Commission during the 18 years that Romania waited to join the EU. So I would rephrase your conditional that “If you’re going to deport someone, either ban them forever or don’t fly them out at all” to “if you’re going to let someone into your club, be prepared to deal with both their advantages and defects.” Europe has certainly been able to make good use of Romanian labor, but has failed to develop any kind of coherent policy other than deportation to deal with serial lawbreakers from within its own bloc – no matter what their ethnic affiliation is. At bottom, it is simply a measure of just how far Europe has to come to ever closer union.

Expelled: l’intelligence, n’est pas permis

When I first came to live in Italy in late 2007, a debate about immigration that had been simmering for years finally began to boil over. As the Prodi government staggered and fell, a coalition government, led by Berlusconi’s newly-branded People of Liberty (PdL) party took power. Instrumental to their success was the partnership of Umberto Bossi’s Northern League (LN), a party that had initially garnered attention in the early nineties with its breakway rhetoric. In recent years the League has turned its attention and substantial populist base to more electorate-friendly issues, federalism and immigration among them. As the immigration debate has grown more heated in the past three years, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has become more of a public figure. This week, he weighed in on France’s controversial decision to ‘voluntarily’ expatriate almost 100 Roma or Gypsies back to Romania, their country of origin.

Maroni has come out in the Corriere della Sera saying that France ‘copied’ Italy and that Italy will go one step further this time. (As well as indulging in the usual political opportunism by pointing out that it was under former left wing Rome mayor Veltroni’s watch that these stringent policies were adopted.)

English-language coverage:

(In Italian)

The League enjoys solid support all over the north particularly in the former Christian Democrat strongholds of Lombardy and Veneto. On the streets of Rovigo, a town in the Veneto that I’ve called home on and off for the past several years, things don’t seem that bad with regard to immigration: during last night’s evening walk I saw several teens of African descent out with their white Italian peers, joking and chatting colloquially, and at the pizzeria in isolated Granzette there were at least two groups of multi-ethnic diners downing beers and chomping enthusiastically on pizza. After the beating death of Abba Guibre in Milan last year, that’s good news.

But as anyone who has been to Romania, Bulgaria or Macedonia knows, the Roma often stand apart, even in their countries of origin. What France has done is shameful and contravenes EU law. A follow up to minister Maroni’s comments in the Corriere states as much, and the powerful CEI (Conferance of Bishops) in Italy has come out against France’s policy and Maroni’s braggadocio as well. Italy, for so long at the fringes of the EU, may have something to teach big brother France in this matter. Let’s hope so.