French Roma catatactic sandwich

Gypsy catataxisFrance has deported more than a 1,000 Roma in the last month, after President Sarkozy  decided that 300 illegal gypsy camps should be disbanded. He views the camps as sources of illegal trafficking , child exploitation, prostitution and crime. The decision was triggered by a riot in the town of St Aignan. Dozens of Roma attacked a police station after a gendarme killed a 22 year old from their community.   Cynics believe Sarkozy’s hardline but populist stance is an effort to raise his low approval ratings in the polls.

However, the EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has called the French actions “a disgrace” . She has urged the European Commission to take legal action against France since EU law bans discrimination against any ethnic group or nationality.  Inevitable comparisons have been drawn with the round up of Jews and Gypsies by  the Vichy government in the Second World War.

This is a catatactic sandwich. There are four hierarchical levels involved: citizen, nation, state and supranational entity. In this, the Roma are a ‘nation’ in its traditional sense: a group of people who share a culture, language and ethnic origin. The Cherokee nation is another example. Though the words nation, country and state are often used interchangeably they have distinct meanings. A country is the land that belongs to a nation. The State is the government of the nation and the country. We are habituated to think in terms of the sovereignty of the “nation state”, where the nation and the state are a single entity. The more multicultural we become, the more inappropriate this is. There are now many nations in each state.

The Roma are unusual in that they are a nation with no country. They are believed to have left north-west India  a millennium ago and migrated throughout Europe. They are most concentrated in Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Turkey but have communities in every part of Europe.

The French government claims it is acting against citizens who are in the country illegally. The EU believes France is discriminating against an ethnic group or nation. So level 3 thinks it is fixing a level 1 problem while level 4 thinks laws are being broken on level 2. That is the catatactic sandwich.

Its one step more complicated because the EU also has laws about the free movement of EU citizens. In other words, level 4 also has oversight at level 1. Unlike Britain, France requires citizens of Rumania to have special work permits.  This special exception to the EU rules expires in 2014. So in three years time, Bulgarians and Rumanians will be free to work anywhere in France. Any deported Roma can legally come straight back again.

It seems the future will be one of united nations and disunited states.

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