The row between the French government and the European Commission over the repatriations of Roma people has reawakened the debate about immigration policies, solidarity and racism. The topic is extremely complex, and some of the main questions could remain unanswered for a long time.
But the recent quarrel has also shown how the French government is guilty of double standards when it comes to respecting "European principles".
As we argue in this letter to European Voice today, for years France has lectured other member states on the need for "European solidarity" and to keep up the image of a happy family. However, now that it is accused of violating several key EU laws, the French government suddenly seems much less keen to abide by the principles it used to preach.
But Sarkozy is not the only one who has displayed the symptoms of "EU-hypocrisy" lately. As Dutch MEP Derk-Jan Eppink revealed during the last plenary session of the European Parliament, in 2002 Belgium was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights because, three years before, 74 Roma people had been "collectively expelled" and deported to Slovakia. And guess who the Belgian Prime Minister was at the time? None other than Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt (shaking hands with Sarkozy in the picture), the staunchest defender of euro-federalism and "European values".
Indeed, only last week, Verhofstadt was quick to join the rest of the European Parliament in condemning the French policy. He said,
"The reaction from several French government ministers to our criticism is regrettable. This is not a question of political diktat but an appeal to a better sense of judgement based on commonly shared European values for tolerance, non-discrimination and respect for free movement. The Roma are European citizens just like any other."
"Parliament this week was perfectly entitled to point out that bribing or forcing one ethnic group to return, en masse, to another member state, is not in conformity with EU laws, nor in the spirit of the treaties."
It's worth watching the video below right to the end of Eppink's speech. The look on Verhofstadt's face is a picture.