The Guardian: Governments side with Italy's foreign teachers
Italy's 1.500 lettori - foreign-language lecturers - have won the backing of the British and French governments in a new bid to end their long battle against discrimination by Italian university authorities
Governments side with Italy's foreign teachers (20/4/00)
Italy's 1.500 lettori - foreign-language lecturers - have won the backing of the British and French governments in a new bid to end their long battle against discrimination by Italian university authorities.
Foreign secretary Robin Cook and single market minister Helen Liddell recently pledged the lecturers the British government's full official support. Britain will join forces with the European Commission as party litigant at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg, where the lecturers' record fourth freedom of movement case is pending.
The French prime minister Lionel Jospin has called for "a common approach aimed at eliminating discrimination based on nationality in Italy". Monique Cerisier ben Guiga, the French MP responsible for the welfare of overseas French citizens, is pressing Jospin to take diplomatic measures against Italy in order to have the rights of lettori under European Union law recognised by their employers. But the lecturers fear that even the most favourable of outcomes at the ECJ next year would only lead them back into the labyrinthine Italian court system for another decade in the attempt to have the decision implemented.
The real significance of British and French intervention, they feel, is that it at last allows governments to become formally engaged at the political level.
The need for a political solution was expressed in an official complaint to European ombudsman Jacob Soderman last October. It called for the immediate suspension of current infringement proceedings on the grounds that poor administration and perhaps even foul play by the previous disgraced commission - which resigned 12 months ago after revelations of fraud, and mismanagement - had weakened their case by dropping the issue of status and reducing that of acquired rights.
It raised the possibility of suing the commission for damages under non-contractual liability on the grounds that it had misled the lecturers, many of whom claim their sackings and economic and psychological hardships were the result of following the commission's advice.
Scottish National Party MEP Neil MacCormick, who is championing the lecturers' cause, described the new commission's behaviour as "outrageous" and has called for urgent action. He said: "Mr Prodi has just made a statement in parliament promising a new deal in the way of open government and transparency. But at the very same time the commission has maintained a wall of secrecy about its conduct of litigation in the Italian foreign lecturers' case." Scotsman David Petrie, 48, chairman of the Association of Foreign Language Lecturers in Italy, ALLSI, which lodged the complaint, said: "Governments are constantly giving us the hard sell on the benefits of the union, but our experience shows that transforming EU citizens' rights into reality is an issue they'd rather not deal with. The EU ought to be able to sort out a labour dispute involving EU citizens who are trying to teach EU languages and reside peacefully in another member state."
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