EU Lawmakers Criticize Italian Plans to Fingerprint Gypsies, Liken it to Nazi Methodology

European Union lawmakers on Monday condemned Italian moves to fingerprint tens of thousands of Gypsies living in camps across the country as discriminatory.

The EU lawmakers called for an EU-wide policy that would help integrate Gypsies into the mainstream society.

The Italian government proposed the fingerprinting measure as part of a wider crackdown on street crime. Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said last week it was needed to fight crime and identify illegal immigrants for expulsion.

Members of the European Parliament said, however, that the plans smacked of Nazi methods.

"We are extremely startled by the recent measures announced by the Italian government. Fingerprinting adults and minors is discriminatory and goes against certain agreed principles," Dutch lawmaker Jan Marinus Wiersma said.

"I'd like to urge the Italian government to drop these measures all together," he said.

EU Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla, the bloc' top anti-discrimination official, said the EU executive had "certain doubts about the nature of the procedure and its extent" and has requested clarification from Italy as to why it is fingerprinting Gypsies.

He told EU parliamentarians that fingerprinting members of one ethnic group was "not acceptable" under EU law.

Meanwhile, Maroni said Monday during a meeting of EU interior ministers in Cannes, France, that Italy would provide the EU with a report on the government's actions toward Gypsies by the end of July.

The debate has exposed the weaknesses of European policy toward its 7 million to 9 million Gypsies, also known as Roma. For decades, members of the continent's largest, poorest and fastest growing minority have been at risk of social exclusion, despite many government programs designed to help them.

Living conditions for Gypsies has worsened since the fall of communism and the dismantling of Europe's borders, which has led many Gypsies from countries such as Romania, Slovakia and Hungary to migrate westward to Italy, Spain and other more developed states. Often in squalid camps with no access to health services, education, basic sanitary facilities or jobs.

More than 700 encampments have been built in Italy, mainly around Rome, Milan and Naples, housing tens of thousands of Gypsies.