Interview

Speaker: 
Teodor Baconschi, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Date: 
08/18/10
Author: 
Lea Berzuc, RFI

Editor: French Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux announced yesterday that 79 Roma would be expelled to Romania tomorrow. On the other hand, French Immigration Minister Eric Besson said there would be individual cases of expulsion and by no means collective ones, in compliance with European law. Lea Berzuc asked the Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi to comment on the actions and statements of the Paris authorities.

Teodor Baconschi: Branding an ethnic group, or collective police-type approaches are illegal in Europe. This is laid down in Directive no.38/2004 of the European Parliament and Council, namely the right of European citizens and their family members to move and reside freely. Therefore, the principles are quite clear. France was and continues to be the homeland of human rights, so I don’t think we can speak about any lawfulness or moral legitimacy of collective expulsions. If a citizen from a Member State violates the laws on the territory of another State, the law must be applied – naturally on an individual basis, in observance of due process, of the right to defense, and the complete information provided to the respective citizen about all their rights in a court of law. We hope that through Romanian-French bilateral cooperation we can meet these standards and not act wholesale. An individual approach is needed and so are much more committed steps by both sides towards effective inclusion of those Romanian citizens. 

Reporter: Now, as you said, a certain procedure should be complied with even in individual cases. Yet on Thursday several dozens such individually expelled persons will arrive in Romania. Do you think that all those procedures were complied with in their case? 

Teodor Baconschi: Indeed, the acquis communautaire sets out the right to expel a European citizen from a Member State to another Member State only in extremely drastic conditions, in conditions of serious threat to society. You asked me whether the law was observed in the case of each of the Romanian citizens subject to this expulsion. I hope things indeed stand like this, and I am also expressing my concern about the risk of a populist move and the generation of xenophobic reactions against the background of economic crisis. This precedent causes us to be concerned and we hope that through intense bilateral interagency dialog we can reach this very August 30th conclusions worthy of the strategic partnership between France and Romania. August 30th is the day when State Secretary Valentin Mocanu, together with his colleague from the Ministry of the Administration and Interior, State Secretary Fătuloiu, are going to Paris to find the best method to boost cooperation in preventing crime and, at the same time, for the social inclusion of our ethnic Roma fellow citizens.  

Reporter: So, you expect some solutions to emerge right after these talks and after the visit of French officials to Bucharest this autumn. 

Teodor Baconschi: I’m sure of that. I believe that any artificial, let’s call it electoral-type feverishness, will not help in this process. We must keep our lucidity and see what we can do together, both between France and Romania, and on a European level, to find schools, hospitals and an open, not xenophobic mindset towards the representatives of the Roma population living both in our country and in other European states. They have been living in Europe for many centuries, have been subject to too much discrimination and segregation and are indeed entitled to be the beneficiary of policies which should lead, through education and professional inclusion, to their full integration. 

Reporter: Mister Minister, how do you explain the fact that Romania and France set up a joint working committee which should have found some solutions until now? They even talked about a cooperation which, as I remember, could be a model to other European states, and yet things have come to this point. Where did the disfunction, so to say, occur? 

Teodor Baconschi: The Romanian citizens’ free movement became effective after 2007 and there have been migratory flows, for professional or other reasons. Once again, I am convinced we must find this solution together, it must be supported from public funds and policies which should give the appropriate signal and lead to a better cooperation, including with the NGOs that work for the integration and social inclusion of the Roma population. This is a bilateral as well as European issue, and cannot be settled in 48 hours, and not through police-type measures, but rather through a change of attitude and a sense of responsibility of all European governments towards these fellow citizens and European citizens who, as they said, cannot both live in the European Union and be subject to collective discrimination at the same time. 

Reporter: And yet, despite this dialog which has been taking place between the Romanian and French authorities, it seems the French are now a bit short on patience. How has the dialog between France and Romania unfolded during this period? How did you communicate, did you hear the news on television? 

Teodor Baconschi: No, no. As you know, during President Sarkozy’s visit to Bucharest, the two Presidents signed a strategic partnership, a five-year roadmap. France and Romania are developing an excellent cooperation on many levels, therefore the Franco-Romanian, Romanian-French relationship works very smoothly. We are experiencing this problem precisely because of our 200-year history together, and since we are now EU Member States we must work it out together. 

Reporter: In this context, what is your opinion on such statements as that of the French State Secretary for European Affairs, when he talked about Romania’s joining the Schengen Area? And one week ago, President Traian Băsescu said that any Member State could oppose this joining, without giving any further explanations. And yet these statements have become very, very harsh, at least that’s how we see them. 

Teodor Baconschi: I had some direct talks with Pierre Lellouche in Bucharest and in Brussels; I hope we are able to continue them in Paris. He has developed a personal involvement as regards the situation of the Roma minority. His approach is, generally, limited to his own constituency, in Arrondissement 8 of Paris, but at the same time Mr. Lellouche is France’s European voice and I am convinced that he will have the wisdom, the tactfulness of approaching this problem we share with the proper calm, without turning it into an issue which should cast a shadow, one way or another, on the excellent relations between Romania and France. 

Reporter: So, practically, you don’t expect any direct consequences of this issue, do you?

Teodor Baconschi: I don’t know what you mean by direct consequences. 

Reporter: Well, as Mr. Lellouche said, we are considering Romania’s joining the Schengen Area.

Teodor Baconschi: I believe that the political dialog between Member States must not be punctuated by threats of any nature and that the entire process is based on transparency, solidarity, cohesion policies and on identifying solutions jointly, no matter what difficulties we encounter in the process. The European construction is a historical process of wider magnitude. If any differences show up between the Member States, by now they have a political culture developed for several decades, which can help them work together to iron out any rough edges. 

Reporter: Now, coming back very briefly to the issue of the Roma camps dismantlement, the French authorities defend their decision saying that it is not a violation of human rights, on the contrary, it is the protection of vulnerable persons. The French authorities admit that they cannot ban these European citizens from returning to France. But there is an expectation in Paris that Romania does something to keep them back in the country. What is Romania doing specifically for these people not to go back and find what they need at home? I recently heard a Roma saying that “I’d better die than go back to Romania.” 

Teodor Baconschi: Surely, Romania cannot have someone arrested at the border, if the person did not commit any offense proven in a court of law by a final verdict. We cannot start from the presumption of guilt, we cannot impose, cannot restrict the free movement of our fellow countrymen on the basis of suspicions, just in case, so to say. As I said, if we want to be honest and not populist, if we take a lucid view of this issue, we realize it has acquired a European dimension only for the past three or four years, with the latest waves of enlargement, and it will be resolved in time. For the moment, if we exchange accusations or criminalize ethnic groups on a collective basis we will resuscitate most unpleasant memories, on the one hand, and instead of finding solutions we will most often generate artificial tensions, on the other hand. 

Reporter: Because you said this issue was of rather recent date – we had the case of Italy, how did things work out there? Because we don’t hear any more about any camp dismantlement or expulsions in Italy. 

Teodor Baconschi: Again, things were worked out through political wisdom, because there was an artificial, electoral-type feverishness in Italy too. The peak of the crisis was overcome through dialog and the finding of solutions was based on cooperation between the two police structures, on the cooperation not only between the two judiciaries but also between the Governments, the Labor Ministries etc. It takes a rather complex institutional effort, which can be undertaken if there is good faith on both sides. 

Reporter: Shall I understand therefore that, for example, in the case of France there is no such police cooperation, such cooperation at the level of the judicial bodies? 

Teodor Baconschi: Oh there absolutely is such a cooperation, we have two home affairs attaches at Romania’s Embassy in Paris; four Romanian policemen are working together with their French colleagues at the Police Prefecture in Paris; joint working meetings are being held, information is shared and, as far as I know, Minister Vasile Blaga intends to strengthen this mechanism of cooperation between the two police forces. 

Reporter: And one last question, Mister Minister, bottom-line, as they say: Can we say that the Franco-Romanian relations are as good as one year ago? 

Teodor Baconschi: I believe that their foundation is as strong as ever, the considerable potential of this relationship must be further developed. There is this problem now, but it is completely inappropriate to reduce the whole of the relationship between the two countries to this issue, and I am sure that we have enough interests in common at bilateral, European and world level, to turn this strategic partnership into a viable instrument, and not just a piece of paper.