EC v. Italy

Court of Justice of the European Union
Case Manager

Anti-Roma Measures Violate European Law

Roma in Italy face hostility, as fears of immigration from other EU countries are exacerbated by government-controlled media and used to justify racist policies. An emergency decree in 2008 led to a census of all Roma in Italy, the creation of ethnic databases held by police officers, forced evictions and resettlements, and the creation of new segregated camps. Although the 2008 emergency decree was declared illegal, its legacy continues in the form of segregated housing in Roma-only camps, forced evictions, and a Roma census database that is maintained in some cities. To prevent further discrimination against Roma, the European Commission must declare that Italy’s actions breach European Union race antidiscrimination and data protection law and refer the infringements to the Court of Justice of the European Union.


In May 2008, the Italian government issued a “Nomad Emergency Decree” granting emergency powers to local prefects in the Campania, Lazio and Lombardia regions to adopt measures targeting Roma living in so-called nomad camps. In May 2009, the state of emergency was extended to the end of 2010, and expanded to cover the Piedmont and Veneto regions. In December 2010, the state of emergency was prolonged for one more year.

In July 2009, the Italian parliament adopted Law 94/2009 on Provisions Relating to Public Safety—known as the “Security Package”—criminalizing irregular entry into Italy and staying without a valid residence permit. 

The implementation of the 2008 Nomad Emergency Decree and the 2009 Security Package has resulted in the persecution of Roma and Sinti populations throughout Italy, in violation of European Union law and international human rights law. At the same time, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, ECRI, CERD and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe have all singled out Italy for failing to provide proper cultural recognition, equal housing and integration measures for Roma. 

The 2008 Emergency Decree has been used to conduct a census of Roma in Italy by fingerprinting and photographing them, to forcedly evict and further segregate Roma families and to create databases of Roma communities. According to the Ministry of the Interior, during the first year of the “Emergency,” 167 Roma camps were subjected to the census, and identity checks were performed on 12,346 people of which 5,436 were minors. Although the Ministry published supposedly final results of the census in October 2008, the census has continued through 2009 and 2010. The Italian government has stated in front of CERD, in 2012, that the databases have been deleted. Nonetheless, no measure ordering the deletion of such data has ever been issued by the Ministry of the Interior.

Prefects have used the 2008 Emergency Decree and census to conduct forced evictions, resettlements and repatriation programs. In winter 2009, the Prefect of Rome bulldozed the largest nomad camp in Rome, Casilino 900, leaving 1,000 Roma homeless. Pisa forcibly closed camps in January 2010, paying 500 euro to Roma who agreed to go to Romania. In Milan, approximately 70 evictions of authorized and unauthorized camps took place in the first six months of 2010, leaving many children unable to attend school. In July 2012, the municipal authorities of Rome opened up a new segregated camp, La Barbuta, and moved there 200 Roma formerly established and well integrated in the city district of Tor de’ Cenci. La Barbuta is characterized by video-surveillance, entry checks, and strict rules on freedom of movement within the camp. According to its internal regulations, families can reside in La Barbuta for two years maximum. Nonetheless, the Municipality of Rome considers the campsite as a stable ‘place of residence’. Having a stable place of residence, families housed in Roma camps in Rome, do not qualify for regular social housing.

The 2009 Security Package authorized fines ranging from €5000 to €10,000 for unauthorized stay in Italy, and provided that failure to comply with expulsion orders is punishable by a sentence of one to four years’ imprisonment. In 2011, the latter provision was struck down by the Court of Justice of the European Union. Since June 2011, the law also allows state authorities to detain undocumented individuals for up to eighteen months before they are expelled from Italy. Stateless Roma frequently fall in that category.

The decision by France in August 2010 to expel thousands of Roma and to return them to Bulgaria and Romania led to a swift response by the Italian government, which indicated that it wanted permission from the Commission to commence mass deportations of EU citizens who do not have employment. In outlining his request, Minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni stated that Italy would be “tougher than Sarkozy” and expressed his regret at being unable to expel Roma who were Italian citizens, demonstrating the motive behind the new initiative.

From May 2008 to the present, identifications, evictions and repatriations of Roma, Sinti and Travellers have been enforced through the derogatory powers granted by the Nomad Emergency Decree.

In November 2011 Italy’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, stroke down the Nomad Emergency Decree, its implementing ordinances and the 2009 and 2010 prolongation decrees on the ground that they were not premised upon a genuine emergency connected to the presence of Romani and Sinti people. In January 2012, however, the Italian Government appealed that decision to Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation.

While the case was pending before the Supreme Court of Cassation, ordinary courts and local authority continue acting in the framework of the emergency scheme. In May 2013, the Supreme Court of Cassation upheld the Council of State decision, striking down the Nomad Emergency Measures as ultra vires. However, the Supreme Court, like the Council of State, rejected claims that the Nomad Emergency Measures constituted direct or indirect discrimination.

Despite the formal ending of the “Nomad Emergency” and the adoption in February 2012 of the Italian National Roma Integration Strategy, Italian legislation continues to provide for the segregated housing of Roma in “nomad” camps. Since 2012, Italian authorities have continued to build or refurbish segregate housing for Roma and to restrict their access to regular social housing. In at least one documented case, local authorities intend to use EU funds for the purpose of perpetuating segregation. Italian authorities also continue to store and use Roma Census Data collected under the Nomad Emergency.

In September 2012, during an EU pilot procedure, the European Commission expressed concern regarding Italy’s discriminatory treatment of Roma as a result of the Nomad Emergency Decree. Following the government’s response, in April 2014 the Commission continue to express concern about the housing of Roma in “nomad” camps. Ordinary courts and local authorities continue acting in the framework of the emergency scheme. 

Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement

Since 2009, the Open Society Justice Initiative, together with other organizations, has requested the European Commission to commence infringement proceedings against Italy for violations of EU law on racial antidiscrimination and data protection. The Justice Initiative was also involved in domestic proceedings that successfully challenged Italy's nomad emergency measures.


The Emergency Measures adopted and implemented since 2008 breach EU law and human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR),  and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Racial Discrimination. The 2008 Emergency Measures single out Roma for special treatment in housing with no justification, amounting to stereotyping and discrimination against a vulnerable minority group, in breach of the EU’s Racial Equality Directive article 2, as well as the ECHR and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. In addition, the measures established discrimination in housing.

The Roma Database. The creation of a “Roma database”, by collecting and processing sensitive ethnic data only of Roma, violates Article 8(1) of the EU’s Data Protection Directive, which prevents the collection of information about race without objective and proper safeguards. The enduring use of the census data after the formal end of the Emergency legislation constitutes a further breach of EU data protection law, in particular of Articles 6.1, 10, 7 of the EU’s Data Protection Directive.

Lack of Judicial Remedies. No Italian court or authority has recognized the racially discriminatory effects of the Nomad Emergency Measures or the violation of data protection guarantees, and no entity has granted remedies to the victims of those measures. The effects of the discrimination and violation of privacy continue to this day, as the suspension of the Italian Council of State’s ruling has resulted in legal uncertainty that has allowed further violations to occur. This lack of judicial remedies constitutes a breach of both Article 7.1 of the Race Equality Directive and Article 22 of the Data Protection Directive.

February 01, 2015

A coalition of NGOs, including Open Society Foundations, European Roma Rights Centre, Associazione 21 luglio and Amnesty international writes to the members of the European Commission in order to solicit the formal adoption of infringement proceedings against Italy for housing discrimination of Roma.

December 01, 2014

The Justice Initiative and the Open Society European Policy Institute file with the Commission a fifth memorandum showing that discrimination in housing continues, and that ethnic data are still being hold by the local administration.

July 01, 2014

The European Commission establishes new contacts with the Italian government about ongoing segregation in nomad camps, discriminatory access for Roma to social housing, and forced evictions. 

May 01, 2013

The Supreme Court of Cassation rejects the government’s appeal against the 2011 ruling of the Council of State. The ruling is a final determination that the Nomad Emergency Measures are unlawful.

October 01, 2012

The Justice Initiative files with the Commission a fourth memorandum showing that in spite of the formal expiry of the decrees, emergency measures continue being implemented.

September 01, 2012

The European Commission establishes contacts with the Italian government concerning the Nomad Emergency.

June 01, 2012

The Municipality of Rome opens up the new segregated camp of “La Barbuta”. Forced transfers of Roma to the camp commence.

March 26, 2012

The Supreme Court of Cassation hears the appeal by the Italian government against the 2011 sentence that had struck down the Nomad Emergency Decree.

March 01, 2012

Third updated memorandum submitted to the European Commission.

February 01, 2012

The Italian government appeals the Council of State decision to the Supreme Court of Cassation.

November 01, 2011

Italy’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, strikes down the Nomad Emergency Decree, its implementing ordinances and the 2009 and 2010 prolongation decrees on the ground that they were not premised upon a genuine emergency connected to the presence of Romani and Sinti people.

March 01, 2011

Italy's Data Protection Authority turns down an application seeking the deletion of the personal data of an Italian citizen of Roma origin that had been collected through the census.

December 01, 2010

Nomad Emergency decree prolonged until end of 2011.

November 01, 2010

Updated memorandum submitted to the European Commission.

August 01, 2010

Roberto Maroni asked for permission from the European Commission to commence deportations of Roma.

June 01, 2009

Nomad Emergency decree prolonged until end of 2010 and extended to more regions.

April 29, 2009

Memorandum delivered by the Justice Initiative, ERRC, and OsservAzione to European Commissioners Barrot and Špidla.

July 17, 2008

Following exchanges with the European Commission, the Italian government introduced implementing guidelines that instruct the prefects not to specifically target Roma, while continuing the census against “nomadi.”

June 06, 2008

Sixty police officers conducted a census of the Campo Via Impastato, beginning the census process in Milan.

May 11, 2008

Italian Minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni called for the dismantling of Roma camps and for their inhabitants to be expelled or incarcerated.

May 01, 2008

Nomad Emergency Decree and implementing ordinances introduced.

June 08, 2015
Roma in Italy: Housing Segregation is Racial Discrimination, December 2015 Download the 16-page document. Download
October 19, 2012
Roma in Italy: a Follow-Up Briefing, March 2012 Download the 11-page document. Download
October 19, 2012
Roma in Italy: A Continued Emergency, October 2012 Download the eight-page document. Download
October 18, 2010
Roma in Italy: Briefing to the European Commission, October 2010 Download the nine-page document. Download
May 04, 2009
Memorandum to the European Commission, May 2009 Download the 43-page document. Download

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