Saturday, August 5, 2017

Is States' Rights in the E.U. Racist?

Thousands of Romania’s Roma people (also known as Gypsies) headed for the wealthier Western E.U. states, setting off a clash within the European Union over just how open its “open borders” really are. Migration within the 27 states of the E.U. became a combustible issue during the economic downturn. The Union’s expansion that brought in the relatively poor states of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 renewed concern that the poor, traveling far from home in search of work, would become a burden on the state governments of the wealthier states. The migration of the Roma also raised questions about the obligations of Romania and Bulgaria to fulfill promises their governments had made when they joined the Union. Romania, for instance, mapped out a strategy for helping the Roma, but financed little of it.

Nicolas Sarkozy of the E.U. state of France demanded in 2010 that the Romanian state government do more to aid the Roma at home. He vowed to keep dismantling immigrant camps and angrily rejected complaints from E.U. Commission officials that the French authorities were illegally singling out Roma for deportation.

Sarkozy, being oriented to state politics, tried to revive his support on the political right by deporting thousands of them, offering 300 euros, about $392, to those who go home voluntarily, and bulldozing their encampments. The European Commission threatened legal action against the state of France over the deportation, calling it disgraceful and illegal. Perhaps it could also be called racist. If so, might Sarkozy’s action be comparable to a Southern state in the U.S. trying to kick black people out. That is, might Sarkozy’s action evince state rights perpetrating racism? Arizona’s immigration law requiring people being investigated by the police to show I.D. pales in comparison.  Might the association of state rights and racism have shifted from the U.S. to the E.U.? If so, it is doubtful that state rights would be marginalized in the E.U. as it has been in the U.S. on account of the association; the state governments in the E.U. enjoy more than enough loyalty by their citizens to defeat it.

More generally, this case illustrates the problems that the E.U. has had in enforcing compliance of the terms of the accession talks of new states. Prime facie, the case showcases the difficulty involved in integrating Europe, particularly as states such as Italy, Spain, France and Denmark have striven to keep out immigrants from Africa. The case of the Roma could be just the tip of the iceberg in how state rights may be fueled by racism to keep certain groups out. In other words, there could be a rather troubling pattern here, and Europeans may have been torn—looking to the E.U. to thwart the racism while supporting their state governments in keeping out “troubling” groups. It is part and parcel of the checks and balances in modern federalism that member governments can be called on their sordid policies even when they are popular within the particular states.


Suzanne Daley, “Roma, on Move, Test Europe’s ‘Open Borders’,” The New York Times, September 16, 2010.