Friday, November 02, 2007

Italy on the rack

How ironic it is that, the same day of the final High Court determination of the Learco Chindamo case, which refused the government leave to appeal over the expulsion of this Italian-born murderer, the Italian government passed a decree allowing its local authorities to expel EU citizens who pose a threat to public security.

The measure comes in the wake of a horrific murder of a 47-year-old woman, who was reportedly raped, beaten and thrown into a ditch in Rome – attributed to an unemployed Romanian youth living in a shack (pictured) in one of several sprawling settlements on the outskirts of Rome where thousands of residents — some legal, some not — live in hovels or trailers.

This is one of several brutal crimes committed by immigrants, and the situation has got so bad that since June last year, 76 murders have been committed by Romanians. The mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, says that 75 percent of arrests for murder, rape and robbery in his city this year can be attributed to Romanians.

All this has caused a massive outcry in the Italian media, prompting prime minister Romano Prodi – former EU president – to take draconian action. "We are not acting out of rage but we are determined to keep a high and just level of security for our citizens," he told reporters after the Cabinet meeting which approved the measure.

However, the measure – which extends the use of expulsion orders to EU citizens accused of petty crimes - and allows local authorities, such as city prefects, to make the decision in most cases – almost certainly falls foul of EU law (Directive 2004/38/EC again), which prohibits general or discriminatory measures.

The only grounds available to the Italian government are "public policy" or "public security" but, as the directive states, any measures taken, "shall comply with the principle of proportionality and shall be based exclusively on the personal conduct of the individual concerned."

The directive goes on to state that, "Previous criminal convictions shall not in themselves constitute grounds for taking such measures," and that "The personal conduct of the individual concerned must represent a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society."

It also states that, "Justifications that are isolated from the particulars of the case or that rely on considerations of general prevention shall not be accepted."

So high is the barrier, as we have seen with Learco Chindamo, that even murder is not considered sufficient grounds, on its own, to justify expulsion within the terms of the Directive. Neither can any expulsion order be executed without there first being a judicial appeal, during which an order must be suspended.

However, Podi's popularity in the polls is at an all-time low and the immigration issue is being heavily exploited by the right-wing opposition. Real anger being directed leftist politicians, particularly Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, so that Prodi has found himself torn between EU law and domestic imperatives.

So far – as always, when the chips are down – the domestic agenda is taking precedence, but the EU commission has yet to rule of Prodi's new law. When, as seems likely, it is found to be invalid, it seems hardly conceivable that there will not be some public reaction against the EU.

Expect therefore, an attempt at a creative "fudge" by the commission, although, with such a core policy of the EU under challenge, there is very little room for manoeuvre. Not least of the commission's problems is that any concessions could set a precedent with EU-wide implications.

As the implications of the "freedom of movement" policy are beginning to be realised, the EU is going to be struggling to find a solution.


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