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Europe

EU Threatens Italy with Legal Action Over Immigration Package

Italy drew the ire of the European Commission over its decree which would allow the automatic expulsion of other European Union citizens condemned to more than two years of jail there.

Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi's ideas for solving his immigration problems have angered the EU

The Commission on Tuesday, Sept. 23, threatened Italy with legal action if it did not change the decree, which was part of a controversial package of measures against illegal immigrants and crime agreed by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's cabinet in May.

The security package included making illegal immigration an offense carrying a prison sentence and making the use of minors to beg for money a crime punishable with up to three years in jail -- a measure which appeared to be aimed at Roma people.

Berlusconi's cabinet announced the package after backlashes against illegal Roma camps depicted by right-wingers in the prime minister's new government as dens of criminality.

The EU said that Italy had ignored its concerns that its proposals could fuel racism, saying that the decree "poses problems of compatibility with Community Law, in particular concerning the rules on the automatic expulsion of EU citizens," according to a statement from EU Justice and Security Commissioner Jacques Barrot.

The statement added that Italy needed to clarify that the decree, which currently applies to all foreigners, would not be applied to EU citizens.

Commission could take Italy to court

If Italy does not agree to the change "the Commission would launch infringement proceedings," referring to a process that can lead the EU executive to take an EU member to court, Barrot said in the statement.

The Commission also asked Italy to modify a draft decree setting conditions on how EU citizens can live in Italy, including checks on their income.

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for justice, freedom and security French Jacques Barrot

Barrot says the EU doesn't have a problem with all decrees

Barrot said there were no problems with two other draft decrees that Italy had submitted, concerning family reunification and procedures for recognizing refugee status.

The European Commission controversially said earlier this month it had no problems with Italian plans to fingerprint Roma as it was satisfied Italy would limit fingerprinting to cases where it was necessary due to a lack of documentation.

Rights campaigners expressed concern last week about the European Commission's stance on Italy's controversial Roma policy and urged Brussels to release an Italian report on the matter.

"The Commission appears to have taken the narrowest possible view, accepting a 'softened' version of the measures initially implemented by the Italian government," said the groups, led by Amnesty International.

"These same measures had been severely criticized as discriminatory and violating human rights law by the Council of Europe, civil society and indeed the Commission itself," a statement said.

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