Roma in France ‘could be allowed to work’

France will consider giving migrants from Romania and Bulgaria the right to work, the Interior Minister said Thursday in a move triggered by tensions over the treatment of an estimated 15,000 ethnic Roma living in illegal camps.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who has overseen the dismantling of several camps and the repatriation of hundreds of Roma, said the lifting of labour

market restrictions "could be one of the solutions" to what has been a divisive issue for the Socialist administration.

It will be discussed next week at a ministerial meeting chaired by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

France is one of a number of European Union countries which declined to grant Bulgarian and Romanian workers unrestricted access to their labour markets following the two countries' accession to the EU in 2007.

Critics of that policy argue that it puts Roma migrants in an invidious position since they can be deported because they cannot demonstrate that they
can support themselves but at the same time, cannot seek work legally.

One of the EU's founding principles is that citizens should be able to work in any member state and the transitional arrangements permitted when Bulgaria
and Romania joined must be phased out by the end of 2013.

France's move to possibly bring that forward follows criticism of Valls' policy from sections of his own party, from Green members of the government
and from Roma rights groups.

Socialist MP Pouria Amirshahi said the government's change of tone on the issue was long overdue.

"At last!" he said. "At last this issue is going to be looked at through an optic other than one of police repression."

Valls' critics have accused him of continuing the policies of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who sparked international outrage in 2010 when he launched a sweep of Roma camps that resulted in hundreds being repatriated.

Sarkozy's actions and rhetoric prompted a threat of legal action from the EU's executive arm, the Commission, and prompted Justice Commissioner Viviane
Reding to warn that France was reviving unhappy memories of World War II deportations.

The Commission said last week that it was monitoring the new government's handling of the Roma but has stopped short of accusing the administration of
breaking any EU rules.

Valls said that a commitment made by President Francois Hollande during his election campaign that camps would not be dismantled without rehousing options having been put in place would be honoured eventually.

"It will take time," Valls said. "The objective will be met progressively but it is difficult and we have to acknowledge that."

Valls last week sanctioned the dismantling of camps on the outskirts of Lyon and around the northern city of Lille which were home to more than 250

On Tuesday, police in Lyon removed 46 Roma, including 25 children, from a squat in the city centre.

The Socialists have also continued their predecessors' practice of offering Roma financial incentives (300 euros per adult, 150 euros per child) to be
flown back to their native countries.

Critics say this is a waste of public money as there is nothing France can do to stop Roma from immediately coming back.

Polls suggest the government's treatment of the Roma enjoys wide support with as many as 80 percent of voters supporting the dismantling of camps, even
almost as many (73 percent) accept that this moves rather than solves the problem.

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The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.