EU demands swift French action on Roma

The European Commission on Wednesday called for action on French government pledges to ease Roma integration, such as abolishing a tax on employers.

The European Commission on Wednesday welcomed the "very constructive spirit" of French government moves to ease Roma integration, but said it now wanted to see action.

After Paris said it would abolish a tax on employers making it extra expensive to hire Roma workers and widen the range of jobs open to immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania, the EU executive said France had taken "a step in the right direction".

The announcements in Paris came after an emergency ministerial meeting on the handling of an estimated 15,000 Roma currently living in illegal and often squalid camps across France.

But after Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's office added that it would keep to its policy of closing camps "if this is carried out after a court order or to put an end to a dangerous situation or an immediate health risk," Brussels said more had to be done.

The European Union executive "salutes the announcements made by the French government," he said, and "congratulates" France on the spirit of decisions taken that represent "a key step towards Roma integration," said spokesman Olivier Bailly."

However, the Commission also "encourages France to lift all the restrictions still in place as soon as possible."

French Housing Minister Cecile Duflot said after the talks that the government had agreed to abolish a charge that employers currently have to pay to employ Bulgarian or Romanian nationals — under short-term contracts worth up to €300 euros ($375) rising to 50 percent of gross pay under contracts running to more than 12 months.

But Bailly said "announcements must be followed by actions for there to be concrete repercussions in the daily life of Roma" citizens.

The Commission said it will continue to monitor French camp closure orders, and maintain a close eye on "the fruits of" some €470,000 of EU grants already awarded to help social inclusion.

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