Thursday, 11 December 2014 00:00

From theory to Practice: France 2010 Roma Repatriation Program

Written by  Simona Torotcoi et al.
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We always speak about policies targeting Roma without knowing too much about the policy-making process itself: how a policy is evolving and ends up in being put on the agenda, how decision makers decide which policy should be adopted, are always policies originating from problems or first there are the solutions from which we derive problems, what influences the way policies are framed, how one decides among different solutions or what might be the effect of a specific policy. This paper is purely descriptive and therefore, by looking at France Roma repatriation program, it aims to apply some of the public policy concepts and theories, which can be found in the first stages of the policy cycle (see figure below), that is agenda setting, policy formulation and policy implementation.



In July 2010, the France Government introduced a program known as the France Roma Repatriation Program with the main aim of repatriating thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma. The repatriation program, however, was not the first action by the French government aimed at decreasing the Roma population in France. In 2009, roughly 10,000 Roma were expelled from France, compared with the 8,000 Roma repatriated by September 2010 (ERRC). This move by the French government attracted a great deal of derision from its fellow EU Member States for its pursuit of a concentrated effort to eliminate encampments populated by what the French refer to as "gens du voyage” (Enlanger, 2010). These encampments constitute a combination of migrant Roma, including those with and without French citizenship. France's Roma expulsion continues to draw an enormous amount of criticism from within the country, from abroad, and from the EU itself (Crumley, 2010). However, French officials defended this program saying that the country is not singling out the Roma as an ethnic group and deny that France conducts collective expulsions aimed solely at the Roma. They emphasized that the French government was expelling people on legal rather than ethnic grounds (Der Spiegel, 2010).  Overall, the France' Roma Repatriation Program of President Nicolas Sarkozy has been seen as a controversial policy issue in the European Union ,with the EU Justice Commissioner threatening to take out a legal action against French government.


Case description

One of the most recent Roma migration waves started in 2007 when Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union, thus becoming European citizens. According to Article 21 (1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union: Every citizen of the Union shall have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, subject to the limitations and conditions laid down in the Treaties and by the measures adopted to give them effect. The correspondent legal framework member states had to incorporate into their national legislation is Directive 2004/38/EC, which among others stipulates that the period of residence is based on the citizen’s ID and it should not exceed three months otherwise possessing a registration certificate or work permit in the new country of residence.

One of the countries that experienced massive Roma migration is France. Moreover, the French case proved to be well known in the European Union due to its immigration policies and repatriation policies. Since 2003, France started to develop national regulations on immigration and asylum, ending up with what is called the ‘Sarkozy Laws’. The relevant law in this context is the Immigration and Integration Law adopted on 17 May 2006. According to Chou and Baygert (2007), the law proposes an immigration model with three distinct components: (1) ‘selective immigration’ (immigration choisie), (2) mandatory integration for potential long-term residents, and (3) ‘co-development’. As far as the selective immigration aspect is concerned, through this policy the French Government creates a system in which high-skilled migrants are favored while the restrictions are increasing on the other categories. In case there is no compliance with the Law, the relevant authorities will have the right to issue an ‘obligation to leave French territory’ as an accompaniment to any decision involving refusal or retrieval of a residence permit (Viprey, 2006), a fact that explains France Roma expulsions starting as early as 2007.

According to French organization FNASAT-Gens Du Voyage, in 2010 there were around 400,000 Roma living in France and about 12,000 Roma from Bulgaria and Romania with many of them living in unauthorized camps or squats in urban areas across the country around cities such as Lille, Marseille, Lyon, Nantes, Toulouse, Nice, Strasbourg, Montpellier or Grenoble.

In spite of French Roma NGOs efforts in getting legal permissions and public land from local authorities in order to settle down camps for Roma migrants, most of the camps Roma reside are illegal, either on pieces of wasteland, scraps of land or nearby rubbish dumps or on private lands. In some of the camps the living conditions and existing facilities are considered luxury by Roma inhabitants compared with what they had to deal with in their countries of origin or other similar camps: “The town council has provided a row of chemical toilets, two water taps and one rubbish skip”, says The Independent (2010).

Starting with the summer of 2007, several camps were closed down and demolished at the land owners requests, and Roma were either taken under the temporary custody of social services/local authorities and integrated in social inclusion programs (where a job and a place to stay were provided), or they were deported back to their home countries and given 150 euro’s per adult and around 50 euro’s per child (later on the sum increased to 300 Euro per person). According to the Council of Europe in 2008, around 9 178 Romanians (around 90%) and Bulgarians were expelled from France, in 2009 more than 11 000 and in 2010 around 13 241 Romanians or Bulgarians were expelled from France. According to Der Spiegel (2010), what trigged France domestic security was a mid-July incident, which saw a young Roma killed by a French police officer in the town of Saint-Aignan in central France. Exactly what led to the killing remains unclear, but shortly afterwards, 50 people armed with clubs and iron bars stormed the local police station. Several cars were burned and a community hall in a neighboring town was burned to the ground. It was an ugly episode, and one, which caught the attention of Sarkozy's government in Paris. In the last cabinet meeting prior to the summer recess, the government agreed on tough measures against Roma living in France illegally. Furthermore, they resolved to close down "illegal camps" and to repatriate foreigners not in possession of the necessary residency papers.  Moreover these camps and illegal settlements have been seen as sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime. As Mr. Sarkozy claims, these are the main reason for the 2010 French Government program on French Roma repatriation.[1] 

It is said that Nicolas Sarkozy’s offensive against Roma is not free of political calculation. On the one side Roma are used as scapegoats for his fight against crime and on the other side for changing the public attention from a previous national conversation about the financial illegality of his previous presidential campaign. Moreover, opposition claims that this was part of his 2012 electoral strategy.


Where does the problem come from?

In order to understand how the Roma issue got the attention on the French political agenda it is worth mentioning Kleinnijenhuis and Rietbergs (1995) theory, which claims that the political agenda is assumed to respond to the public agenda. However, theories on political communication suggest top-down agenda setting. The political agenda would set the media agenda, which in turn would set the public agenda. The central tenet of mediocrity theory is the proposition that the media agenda sets both the public agenda and the political agenda. The riots in the middle of July in France caused this situation to become big in the media, and thus for the media and the public it is seen as the focusing event. However, the government already started working on policy solutions for the problem of Roma before these focusing events mid-July. Some official memos were leaked that demonstrated that the first memo, which stated a strategy for demolishing Roma settlements, was issued on June 24th; this was almost a month before the first riots started. However, Sarkozy used these riots to announce publicly his intentions to increase anticrime and immigration control. Many news organizations, such as the BBC and Agence France Press have suggested Sarkozy’s statements as a strategy to improve his ratings and to bolster his position for the next election that was coming up.[2]


  • Focusing event

Often problems do not come into the attention of politics right away. As Kingdon (2011) states, they need a little push to get the attention of people in and around government. A focusing event can provide such a push. A focusing event is an incident that raises the attention to a problem (Kingdon, 2011), or whatever might be perceived as a problem by some, in this case the Roma living in France. In the case of the repatriation of Roma from France, a focusing event happened on July 16th. This day, French police officer shot a 22-year-old Roma living in France. The death of this young man sparked a riot in Saint-Aignan, the town where the man was shot (Suddath, 2010). President Sarkozy called for an emergency ministerial meeting and after this it was publicly announced that an intensified anticrime and immigration control would get higher on their agenda. It was also stated that within three months 300 illegal camps would be dismantled (BBC, 19-10-2010).

Although the main attention of the press was on the riot in Saint-Aignan, another riot in Grenoble hit France that week. After these two events, a big load of negative information reached the public concerning Roma camps in France. These riots were the starting point for a summer campaign of Sarkozy for a “war” against crime (Simons, 2010). The tactics used by president Sarkozy to keep the issue of domestic security high on the political agenda are spreading out fear of criminal activities and xenophobia (Simons, 2010). All this media attention about criminal activities in Roma camps lead to a majority of the public to support the Roma expulsions and close of these camps in the polls (Schofield, 2010).


  • The four stages of the policy making process

Jones and Baumgartner state four stages in the policy making process. First is the recognition state, in which the multiple problems in the political environment are prioritized (Jones & Baumgartner, 2005). This stage is important because attention can only be addressed to a certain amount of problems. In this case, Sarkozy saw the Roma inhabitants living in France as such a problem, attention must be paid to it, therefore he decided to write strategy memos on how to demolish Roma settlements and called for the ministerial meeting to do something about this problem. The second stage described by Jones and Baumgartner is the characterization stage. In this stage, weights are being given to the attributes and goals are set. In the case of Roma in France, the policy makers focused on the criminal activities that were caused by the Roma living in France. A lot of weight was put on lowering crime rates, which, in their eyes, could be done by demolishing Roma settlements and repatriating Roma. The third stage in the policy making process is weighing of the alternatives, and is followed by the fourth and final stage, which entails choice making. This paper is focused on the agenda setting part and therefore the third and fourth stages of the policy making process, as described by Jones and Baumgartner, are not thoroughly elaborated on in this piece.


  1. Issue attention cycle

In an article written by Downs, the notion of the “issue-attention cycle” is brought up. Downs (1972) describes this as “a problem that suddenly leaps into prominence, remains there for a short time and then-though still largely unresolved- gradually fades from the center of public attention”. There are about five distinct phases in the policy attention cycle. In the pre-problem stage, there is a highly undesirable social situation, which has not (yet) captured a lot of public attention. In the second stage, called ‘alarmed discovery’, an event or a series of events creates attention for the situation previously unknown. In the third stage, ‘realizing the costs of significant progress’, public and officials become aware of the real costs that will be made to solve the problem. This leads to stage four in which the attention for the problem gradually declines. The last stage, the post-problem stage, is the part where the problem is back to his calm place outside of public spotlights again (however, changes may be made or solutions may have been applied during the previous stages).


  1. Symbols

Symbolic representation is the essence of problem definition in politics. The meaning of a symbol is not intrinsic to it, but is invested in it by the people who use it. A symbol, thus, can be a political device. One type of symbols is the story. So, in the case of the Roma living in France, the decline story about how safety and crime issues were pretty good in France,  then got worse because the Roma came to live in the country and will be better again if they would be expelled, is an excellent example of a story used for political goals.

Another type of symbol is the synecdoche, in which an example is used to portray bigger groups or issues. The incident in Saint-Aignan is a bright example of this. Sarkozy, after this incident, called the Roma sources of prostitution and crime. To make Roma the symbol of all the crime happening in France is making use of this symbol to create a mind-set towards pointing out the source of the crime and support for solutions to solve that source.

A last symbol Stone (2011) describes is the metaphor. A metaphor is the implication of a comparison, when for example groups are compared with living organisms (policy is ‘fragmented’, ‘industry is being strangled’). In our case, when Sarkozy states that the Rome are sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime[3], the use of the word ‘source’ is metaphorical. Of course, there can’t be a natural source for evil, but by depicting Roma as a source of something, that something can be removed by removing the source.


  1. Causes

The concept of the cause is the most recognizable in the case we investigated. By assigning, the blame of problems, like crime and prostitution, to one cause (The Roma) the government designed a strategy to form the policy later executed to expel the Roma from France.


  1. The problem and the solutions

Taking in consideration that Bulgarian and Romanian Roma migration to France was considered a threat to the national security (since Roma were considered the authors of several criminal acts), it came to be defined as a policy problem. Almost at the same time, the government and the authorities started evicting and repatriating Roma back to their home countries (starting from 2007). Even though the reactions towards the actions of the French government were highly criticized by Roma NGOs and human rights organizations, the repatriation became French official policy in dealing with the Roma issue. Among the policy alternatives since the problem came out in 2007, one was to integrate Roma immigrants through specific programs, including job training and the provision of social housing, later on another alternative was the “aid for return” policy through which Roma were given a certain amount of money and/or free transportation to their home countries, policy which became the most dominant one due to measures and mechanisms the French government designed in such a way that it’s limits were between respecting the EU rules and pursuing the national goals of reducing “Roma criminality”. Before these solutions and how they were described and analyzed will be explored, we will try to examine the status quo policy and its predicted impact.


Evaluation of Policy Alternatives


  1. The Status Quo Policy

Facing hard times in Central Eastern Europe in terms of discrimination, access to housing, health, employment or education, Roma took advantage of the existing EU legal framework in terms of the right to free movement, and started migrating in Western Europe, in this case France, motivated by the good standards of living and their desire of having a better life. Maintaining the status quo policy in this French context would have been the assumption that Romanian and Bulgarian Roma have the right to live in France for a three months period. For a longer period than this. Roma must prove they are economically active and have sufficient resources not to become a burden on the social assistance system. If these requirements are not met, Roma have no residence right under the EU law and may be asked to leave. In terms of equity this would be a fair distribution (Stone, 2011) since all EU citizens (recipients) can enjoy the corresponding benefits (item), but is up to the citizens whether they will respect these rules or not and support the consequences (process). However as might be concluded the status quo will produce perverse effects, in the sense that Roma are generally low-skilled migrants, their chances of being legally employed being quite low but they will continue living their satisfied life in the (il)legal settlements. As Stone (2011) claims, equality and efficiency is thought to be a zero-sum trade off where the more one has, the less another will have.

In terms of efficiency, it can be argued that this is the main issue the French government is concerned with: Who gets the benefits and who bears the burden of a policy? In a recent news the French Ministry of Interior Manuel Valls claimed that Roma are not welcomed in France and that their lifestyle is different from the “normal” French people, Roma being a burden for the French society overall. Moreover, such a status quo policy explains and makes us understand what motivated the French authorities to adopt the eviction and repatriation program in 2010. As Stone (2011) claims, security can be considered both as a criteria for analyzing a policy alternative but sometimes it can be considered as a policy goal. In the French case, security was the main explanation the repatriation became more intense and more serious. French citizens need of feeling secure but also the French government goal of reducing criminality were in this case the pretext of repatriating Roma.

As a conclusion to this the liberty aspect reflects how the Roma “problem” in France shifted from the individual level to group level, that is collective repatriation based on ethnicity.  In the real world of the “polis” that Stone discusses, the liberty versus injury dilemma is more difficult. Liberty is not really all about the individuals because people are part of a community. This changes the picture because it introduces new harms and new considerations: structural harms that prevent a community from working properly; accumulative harms – one action is insignificant but as more people engage in that action the harm becomes more pronounced; and individual harm that causes group harm. Another point is that policies and laws will cause and prevent harm individually and to groups in the community.  We allow different groups to cause harm and protect other groups based on their position and roles in the community.


  1. Repatriation of Roma from France

The high number of Roma minorities in France caused French authorities to take several measures to repatriate Roma from France. Among these measures it originated the ‘aid for return’ alternative. This was a measure announced by the French authorities on 28th of July which meant that every Roma that repatriated back to the country they originally came from, mostly Romania and Bulgaria, received for this €300 per adult and €100 per child (Voice of America, 9-9-2010). Below we will elaborate on the ‘aid for return’ measure and what goals and solutions the government appeared to be focusing on by choosing this particular alternative as their definite policy.


  • Policy goals

There are large amounts of possible goals to a policy proposal. The ‘aid for return’ measure, taken by the French government, focuses on efficiency and security. Efficiency, as stated in Stone, is simply said getting the most for the least (Stone, 2011: 63). The aid given to Roma to repatriate is of high costs for the French government. Between 28th of July and 27th August 979 Bulgarian and Romanian Roma have returned to their countries of origin, so this means they all received either €300 or €100. However, the high costs, the goal of the policy, namely the lowering of crime rates, can be achieved by giving out this money. This means that with the money the Roma receive they can try to reintegrate into Bulgarian and Romanian society, which they fled in the first place to escape from discrimination and poverty[4]. By giving Roma this money, the French government tries to avoid Roma coming back to France right away, because legally there is nothing stopping Roma from returning to France.

Another goal this aid program tries to reach is security. Stone (2011) talks about the scientific ideal of security, which is defined as ‘analysts recognize that perfect security is unachievable, but they use all available knowledge to maximize security and minimize harms, given the realities and uncertainties of the real world’. In this aid program, the security risks are trying to be minimized, by decreasing the number of Roma in France. This will, in the eyes of the French government, account for a lower chance of criminality, because Roma are believed to often act in a criminal way.


  • Solutions

The French government decided to adopt multiple measures to repatriate Roma, and thereby hoping or believing this would lower criminal rates in France. One of these measures, the ‘aid for return’, created a financial incentive for Roma to return to their country of origin. Stone defines incentives as instruments of power, and in this case money can be seen as a reward for Roma to repatriate. Rights are an important part of the possible solutions to a policy problem. In this case, Roma have all the rights to enter France without a visa, provided that they have work or residency permits if they wish to stay longer than three months. Because these are hard to get, most Roma stay in France after this period illegally (BBC, 15-9-2010). The measure of giving aid to Roma will not change the fact that Roma can come straight back to France after leaving it for a short time. It may help Roma to stay in their countries of origin because they have some financial means and can reintegrate, but French government cannot change the rights of Roma, and they can continue to come legally to France in periods of three months. As stated above, the number of policy alternatives to the Roma “problem” in France was not exhaustive. What is interesting in this respect is the easiness with which the French government adopted such a policy of evictions, dismantling of illegal settlements, followed by the repatriation itself. 



The strong policy issue as we have seen in this paper is the nationalistic anti-Roma campaign which has faced strong reactions from diverse sources within France and abroad. Roma citizens like all other citizens of the EU, are known to have the right to move and settle in any European country of their choice. This problem facing Roma led to the recognition of policy issues being placed in the policy cycle of not only the French government, but also in the EU. The French government has the primary responsibility to develop an implementation policy that guarantees the protection and safety of its citizens as well as the respect for the human dignity and rights of the Roma that also maintains allegiance to its sovereign state law. The source of the problem was identified as arising from the riots in the middle of July 2010. This became big in the media, turning into a focus point for the public, although the government had earlier started working on policy solutions for the problem of Roma before these focusing events of mid-July.

Despite the fact that President Sarkozy’s French Roma repatriation program faced many criticisms from different local and international organizations, the French government still persisted in carrying on with its policy program to repatriate Roma. In this paper we have argued that illicit trafficking, profoundly unfit living conditions, the exploitation of children for the purposes of begging, prostitution or crime are not the only reason behind Sarkozy’s insistence in repatriating Roma (as he claimed). Also by referring to Roma as the cause of the problem he has identified the Roma as a problem, a threat to their national security that needs to be uprooted thereby quickly choosing the option to evict, demolish and repatriate them to their country of origin.  We brought in the status quo policy as one of the many solutions that could have been applied by the French government. This is based on the fact that Roma took the advantage of the existing EU legal framework in terms of exercising their fundamental human right of freedom of movement within Europe to seek better life as opposed to facing the hard times in Central Eastern Europe which included discrimination, no access to housing, health, employment and or education.


This article is a collective work by: Simona Torotcoi, Sylvia van Oevelen, Uzoaku Ike and Mart Keuning
Simona Torotcoi is from Romania, she graduated at the Central European University specializing at the Department of Public Policy and her second masters degree from Leiden University. Currently she is a PhD candidate at the Central European University specializing Public Policy


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[1] The first official document which makes legitimate the evacuation of Roma illegal camps: 


[3] Here is the first official document which makes legitimate the evacuation of Roma illegal camps. It started in August 2010:

[4] Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. 2010. Recent rise in national security discourse in Europe: the case of Roma. Reference to committee: Reference 3702 of 4 October 2010.

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