What’s behind Sarkozy’s crackdown on the Roma?

What’s behind Sarkozy’s crackdown on the Roma?

Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be indulging in the time-honored European tradition of cracking down on Gypsies for political gain: 

The deportations, scheduled to start Thursday, follow the dismantling of 51 illegal camps—set up by Roma of eastern origin and by other Gypsies, including French citizens—over the past three weeks. Around 700 of the people expelled from their camps who were staying in France illegally will be flown home to Central and Eastern Europe, he said….

In July, after police in Saint-Aignan, in central France, shot dead a 22-year-old Gypsy for failing to stop at a roadblock, Gypsies armed with hatchets and iron bars felled trees and traffic lights, torched cars and attacked a bakery and a police station.

Two weeks later, on July 28, Mr. Sarkozy said the government would dismantle illegal sites used by Gypsies. He also proposed stripping French citizenship from people of foreign origin who were convicted of trying to kill police or other public officials. Separately, a member of Mr. Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party has proposed that parents of delinquent children be imprisoned for up to two years.

The thing is, none of this is really all that unusual. The French government regularly shuts down the camps and expelled 10,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria last year alone. Since, as EU citizens, the Roma are free to travel to France without a visa (though not to live there permanently) and still face far less discrimination there than in Eastern Europe, many of them simply return a short time later. But this time Sarkozy has made the expulsions the centerpiece of a larger law-and-order campaign. 

Sarkozy’s popularity ratings have been in the low 30s thanks to a sluggish economy and an ongoing campaign finance scandal. The strategy seems to be working. 79 percent of French voters support dismantling the camps and Sarkozy’s ratings are up 2 points this month. And so the cycle continues.