A PROPOSED ban on begging by the Norwegian government was abandoned today after the Agrarian Centre Party withdrew its support.
The governing coalition of the Conservative and Progress parties had originally tabled legislation which would have made all forms of begging entirely illegal, whilst criminalising people who sought to help beggars.
But the plans were met with widespread criticism from left-wing parties and civil society.
Justice Minister Anders Anundsen, who tabled the motion, is a member of the populist right Progress party. The party has made huge political capital from anti-immigration policies, criticism of Islam and the targeting of minorities such as Roma.
It is already legal for individual councils in Norway to ban begging.
Poverty and discrimination in Romania and Bulgaria mean that many Roma have chosen to move to Northern Europe since the two countries joined the European Union in 2007.
Norwegian opposition leader Jonas Gahr Støre forcefully opposed the proposed legislation, saying: “It isn’t criminal to offer someone a cup of hot chocolate or a meal.”
Despite being one of Europe’s richest countries, Norwegian politics has in recent years taken a more critical view of immigration. The Progress party in particular have argued that immigrants are an economic burden and commit larger amounts of crime.
Nils Muižniek, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner advised the government to reconsider. He told Norwegian news agency NTB: ”It is tempting to use judicial methods to deal with social problems, but begging is a question of poverty.”
Recent initiatives by activists have sought to change the image of Roma culture in Scandinavia, where members of the ethnic group have lived for centuries.
The Norwegian group Folk er Folk, meaning ‘people are people’ has a project in both Norway and Sweden enabling Roma beggars to sell a book which tells people about Roma history and the historical discrimination against them.
The influential Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten also opposed the legislation, writing a leader in which it argued ‘In a civilized society you can throw in jail neither those who ask for help, nor those who simply wish to help’
In Sweden people are also encouraged to refer to Roma as ‘homeless EU-migrants’, emphasising their right to be in the country like any other European citizen.
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