Race and the EU

Maybe Ireland was right to slam its door on the Lisbon Treaty and didn’t even realise it. Maybe really nasty issues of race are bubbling away in the EU, as the credit crunch bites, and then as history has always shown, people start looking for scapegoats. I’ll just demonstrate France and Italy, given recent stories; the British Home Office is institutionally racist, so you’re welcome to check the stories I’ve written referring to it for your evidence there.

Italy’s repression of the Roma is verging on the borderline terrifying. Whilst the parallels the Independent tries to make with Mussolini and Hitler are probably over stretching the issue, what the new Berlusconi government (where the neo-fascists run free) is doing should concern us all:

The Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, a leader of the rabble-rousing Northern League – close allies of Silvio Berlusconi on the government benches – has explained his next step in his assault on the “emergenza di sicurezza”, the “security emergency”: fingerprinting all Gypsies.

It was the only way, he told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, for Italy to guarantee “to those who have the right to remain here, the possibility of living in decent conditions.” For this purpose the Roma – those with Italian nationality and those without, EU citizens and those from outside the Community – will all have their fingerprints taken. And the rule will even apply to Gypsy children – for reasons that to many of Mr Maroni’s supporters must have sounded obvious: “to avoid phenomena,” as he put it, “such as begging”. The new measures, he said, were indispensable “in order to expel those who do not have the right to stay in Italy”.

Giovanna Boursier, an Italian journalist, found one small camp where the count had already taken place on the furthest southern outskirts of Milan. “There is not even a bar where one could ask the way,” she wrote in Il Manifesto, “but once you scramble up a hill you see the roofs of the huts. There are about 10 of them, along with the caravans, dotted around the outskirts, under flyovers and high-tension wires. Around 40 Roma lived here.”

They told her that the police arrived at dawn, woke everybody up, surrounded the camp and flooded it with lights and then went from home to home, demanding identity documents and photographing them. All the residents were Italian citizens. It made no difference. “This wasn’t a census,” protested a Roma called Giorgio. “This was an ethnic register.”

And there’s no crime data to back up the moral panic about Roma. None. Instead a La Repubblica journalist says:

“Most Italians make no distinction between Italian Roma and those who arrived from Yugoslavia during that country’s break-up. And many Italians think that ‘Rom’ is an abbreviation of ‘Romanian’ – and since the arrival of Romania in the EU there has been a large influx of Romanians. People conflate these separate things. There have been crimes committed by Romanians – and people confuse these with the Rom, and the Rom end up being blamed for everything.

“Security was the over-riding theme of the general election, which is why this conflated Roma-Romanian theme became so big, and a part of the left is very timid about confronting the problem. The security emergency itself is a myth: there has been no increase in the number of rapes, for example – in fact, the number has declined. But when a single case occurs it is splashed on the front page of certain papers for a double reason: it increases the climate of fear; and it damages the centre-left, which is perceived as being weak on security.”

Italy’s Roma paranoia spilled on to the world’s front pages on 13 May, when a woman in a suburb of Naples called Ponticelli alleged that a Roma girl had tried to steal her baby. The community erupted in fury, and thugs belonging to the Camorra crime syndicates threw petrol bombs into the local gypsy squatter camp, driving out the inhabitants and burning the place to the ground. Suddenly there was no avoiding the fact: the Italian hatred for the Roma had taken a dramatic new turn.

But the origin was an ancient fear, rooted not in fact but legend. Mr Bellu said: “There is nothing in police records to support the idea that Roma have stolen babies. It’s just a legend. But one that still has people in its grip.”

It’s scary stuff. Vincenzo Spadafora, head of UNICEF in Italy said:

he was “seriously concerned”, adding that the government would be acting in a discriminatory fashion “unless it fingerprinted every child in Italy”.

Silvio Berlusconi’s government is introducing a series of measures aimed at reducing crime, for which immigrants are increasingly being blamed – including thousands of Romanian Gypsies who have entered Italy since Romania joined the EU last year

A former head of the Union of Jewish Communities in Italy warned the fingerprinting measure set a dangerous precedent. “You start like this then you move on to the exclusion from schools, separated classes and widespread discrimination,” Amos Luzzatto told La Repubblica. Recalling Italy’s fascist past, he added: “Italy is a country that has lost its memory.”

But (Roberto) Maroni insisted the scheme would “give greater guarantees to those who have the right to be here to live in decent conditions”.

It sounds like blaming the persecuted poor for their own persecution and poverty doesn’t it? But Maroni’s not alone in the EU in trying this tactic. Sarko’s at it again too.

The maverick right-wing leader hopes to draft an EU strategy on asylum seekers and refugees which would see an end to amnesties for illegal immigrants, a right for governments to detain individuals for up to 18 months, compulsory Europe-wide ‘integration contracts’ to be signed by new arrivals and a ‘blue card’, based loosely on the American ‘green card’, for highly qualified migrants.

Make no mistake about it, this is Sarkozy playing to his base. No amnesties for illegal immigrants? Setting an EU time limit for detention without charge which would make Britain look like a liberal democracy? ‘Integration contracts’? Eh? Is that Sarko blaming immigrants for a ‘refusal’ to integrate rather than being unable to integrate? Sounds a bit familiar, that. Remember 2005?

The violence has isolated the country’s tough-talking anticrime interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, whom some people blame for having made the situation worse with his blunt statements about “cleaning out” the “thugs” from these neighborhoods.

He regularly conflates law and order with immigration issues, whilst ignoring the fact (as does Berlusconi) that the people who ‘fail to integrate’ are largely second generation nationals. Getting French nationality through birth on French soil is no longer automatic, but the law and order problem in this context in France is not down to new immigrants who ‘refuse’ to integrate – it’s down to poverty and inequality of opportunity for non-white French nationals and residents. Why blame new arrivals?

The Bolivian leader, Evo Morales, said they (the EU proposals) did nothing to combat discrimination and racism.

And he’s right – it’s the point Sarkozy prefers again and again to sidestep, whilst disguising it for cheap political gain:

The French leader stated on an earlier occasion that one of the things Europeans expected from the EU is to shield them from globalisation’s negative effects – but France’s protectionist streak is unlikely to be welcomed unanimously by all other 26 member states.

He has also opposed the European Commission’s position in global trade talks and recently publicly criticised EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson for pursuing a trade liberalisation deal that he said would lead to a one-fifth cut in agricultural production and a reduction in farm exports, while “a child dies of hunger every 30 seconds.”

This is not about France wanting to alleviate child hunger. This is about a set of protectionist proposals with racial undertones – a platform he’s already used to get elected. ‘Shielding Europeans from the negative effects of globalisation’ will inevitably  involve racial undertones, because it isn’t commonly understood that headline-grabbing crime waves (which again paralleling Italy are conspicuous by their absence) or semi-skilled job competition is driven by white Northerners. This is about setting up a narrative of convenience, and even though the ‘integration contracts’ have now been abandoned, ‘illegal’ immigration is still conflated with asylum seeking, leaving economic migration labelled as an activity relegated to specific social classes and races. Morales and his fellow South American leaders realise this:

Uruguay’s leader Tabare Vazquez said: “Nobody emigrates for fun, they do it out of necessity.”

They’re only partially right – all migration is not undertaken out of necessity, but in the French-led EU it would be the Southern, majority non-white economic migrants who could be criminalised for it.  ‘Protecting from crime’ or ‘protecting from globalisation’, it’s still scapegoating by race.


One response to “Race and the EU

  1. Pingback: EU Leaders Are Useless « Cosmodaddy

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