Have you ever stood under the Eiffel Tower? Tried to push through Gare du Nord at rush hour? Undoubtedly, then, you’ve seen France‘s unofficial second attraction. Lingering at every major spot in the city, they walk up to you and ask in a gentle voice, “Do you speak English?” Say yes, and you’re stuck reading some postcard with a sob story about Bosnia (at least that was the card content in 2007, when I was in Paris last).
Well, this side of French society is back in the news. France and Luxembourg are throwing down over French president Nicolas Sarkozy‘s anti-Gypsy campaign. In a move that makes perfect sense in Sarko’s head, I’m sure, the country’s little neighbor was asked to take in the people you’ll find at every major and minor attraction in Paris.
%Gallery-102444%Sarko has come under pressure from the European commission, with his decision called a “disgrace” and “appalling” – far short of the sticks and stones that could actually instigate action. While France may not be able to claim purity of heart, it does believe it’s within its rights, as the Guardian reports:
“He says he is only applying European regulations, French laws, and that there is absolutely nothing to criticise France for on the issue,” said Bruno Sido, a senator from Sarkozy’s UMP party. “But if the Luxembourgers want to take them [the Roma], there would be no problem.”
Over the past few weeks, the French authorities have deported around 1,000 Gypsies and stomped out around 100 of their camps. And, this is by design:
A leaked document from the French interior ministry last week showed that Roma were being targeted collectively, on ethnic grounds, “as a priority”, despite repeated statements from the French government that this was not the case.
Viviane Reding, justice commissioner of the European commission, has likened this to treatment of the Roma by the Nazi regime in the second world war, which has caused Sarko et al to get a bit defensive. French Europe minister Pierre Lellouche pushed back:
“As a French minister, as a French citizen, as the son of someone who fought in the Free French Forces, I cannot let Ms Reding say that the France of 2010, in dealing with the issue of the Roma, is the France of Vichy … a nest egg, an air ticket for the country of origin in the European Union is not the death trains, it’s not the gas chambers.”