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Italian right-wing minister backs French Rom expulsions

media A Roma father leaves the airport after arriving from a voluntary repatriation … Reuters

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni on Saturday praised France's crackdown on Roma and travellers, saying that President Nicolas Sarkozy's government is "simply copying Italy". French Interior Minsiter Brice Hortefeux defended the controversial deportations in a newspaper interview, claiming his critics are confined to the "billionaire left".

"For years now, Italy has been using the technique of voluntary and assisted repatriation," Maroni told the Corriere della Sera.

Maroni is a member of the anti-immigration Northern League, the junior partner in Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing government. Critics of France's policy include the Vatican and the authors of a UN report on racism.

He added that he would like to be able to deport European Union citizens who do not meet hs requirements for income and housing and will raise the proposal at an EU ministers’ meeting in Paris on 6 September.

"Many Roma are EU citizens but do not fulfill any of these requirements," he said.

The Rom deported by France are from Romania and Bulgaria, whose citizens do not yet have full EU rights because they joined in 2007.

Domestic critics of the Sarkozy government’s security and immigration policies are confined to “a small politico-media Parisian milieu” and the “billionaire left … divorced from French reality”, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux tells the latest edition of Le Monde newspaper.

The paper’s reporter noted an “unaccustomed, aggressive and pugnacious tone” in the minister’s remarks.

The Rom crackdown does not aim to stigmatise any community, Hortefeux insisted, adding that its opponents have come up with “no alternative solution, no credible proposition, no thought-out initiative”.

Is France breaking EU migration rules?

The free movement of labour is a "fundamental right” within the European Union, which Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007.

But citizens of new member states may be subject to restrictions on their right to work. France is one of ten countries which oppose this clause. But it deports Romanians and Bulgarians if they are deemed a threat to public order, or an unreasonable burden on the social security system, or if they have not found work within three months of arrival.

To obtain work they must obtain the appropriate papers, which may take more than three months, and Roms are only likely to work in about 150 jobs, such as building, hotels or fishing.

But, once deported, they can come back. And Romania and Bulgaria will join the Schengen free movement area in March 2011.

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