Saturday, August 18, 2012

President Hollande and France Are in Trouble - So Take it Out on the Roma

Francois Hollande was inaugurated President of France on May 15, 2012. He swept his Socialist Party to an overwhelming majority in the France Parliament in June elections. He had the power and will to carry out his campaign promises.

He promised to lower the salaries of the president and staff, remove French forces from Afghanistan, raise the top income tax rate to 75% on incomes over 1 million Euros, reinstate the lower retirement age of 60, raise the minimum wage, and hire 60,000 new teachers.

He kept most of these promises, with results similar to President Obama’s.

And he would fight the European concentration on austerity through a pro-growth policy while reigning in the budget deficit. He would find $40 billion in savings and tax increases to lower the deficit to 3%.

The math, of course, does not add up.

He would become a “normal” president unlike his flamboyant predecessor, Nickolas Sarkozy.

And he would not dismantle the Roma camps unless alternative accommodations were available.

The condition of the existing camps in the open countryside is unworthy of a civilized nation: rat infested, no electricity, and no running water. About 15,000 Roma, who are not French citizens, live in France.

The reality is that the French economy showed a 0% economic growth in the second quarter while the unemployment rate exceeds 10%. In addition, the French auto industry, which employs 10% of the French workforce, is hemorrhaging. Peugeot wishes to close a large plant outside Paris and lay off 10,000 workers. The 35 hour workweek also makes for an uncompetitive economy.

Under the European Union’s Schenger agreement Bulgarians and Romanians can come to France for no more than 3 months unless they have obtained work or education visas.

Under a statute enacted in 2007 Roma are not allowed to work in France. Many are uneducated. Thus, France can legally deport them.

The President, who won by a landslide, had a short honeymoon, being shortened by the new “normal” president borrowing for his vacation a luxury yacht owned by a French billionaire. He was down to a 54% unpopularity rate after 100 days in office. The youth are rioting in Amiens. The living conditions of the poor, especially the North Africans, are unsanitary and unhealthy.

What to do? What to do?

Then President Sarkozy attempted to divert public attention away from his woes in 2010 by destroying Roma camps and deporting the Roma to Bulgaria and Romania. The French actions met with universal criticism and outrage by European human rights advocates.

The Roma have historically been the second most despised population in Europe after the Jews. Their image in most of Europe is that of gypsies, tramps, and thieves. They were also the second largest victims of the Holocaust. (I previously blogged the plight of the Roma on August 5, 2010).

So what is President Hollande to do?

The answer is to emulate President Sarkozy and strike out against the Roma.

One President was a conservative, and the other is a socialist, but the Roma are the Roma.

The French government bulldozed several Roma camps last week outside Paris, Lille, and Lyon. Scores of Roma were deported to Romania.

The French government never referred to the camps as Roma, but as “illicit encampments” which posed a threat to the public health and safety.

Several Roma fled in advance of the bulldozers to the woods, which are now their “alternative housing.”

A 23 year old Roma mother of two, who panhandles at the Eifel Tower to survive, said “I want something else for my children. I want a different future.”

The Roma are still searching after 1,000 years of wandering.

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