EU body calls France's Gypsy expulsions 'disgrace'

In recent weeks, French authorities have dismantled over 100 illegal camps and deported more than 1,000 Gypsies, also known as Roma, mainly back to Romania.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
September 14, 2010 15:55
2 minute read.
A Romanian Gypsy woman being deported.

France gypsy 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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BRUSSELS — France's deportations of Gypsies are "a disgrace" and probably break European Union law, the EU's executive body declared Tuesday, setting up a showdown with the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In recent weeks, French authorities have dismantled over 100 illegal camps and deported more than 1,000 Gypsies, also known as Roma, mainly back to Romania, in a crackdown that has drawn international condemnation.

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EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said she was appalled by the expulsions, "which gave that impression that the people are being removed from a member state of the European Union just because they belong to an ethnic minority."

"(This) is a situation that I had thought that Europe would not have to witness again after the second World War," she told a news conference. "The commission will have no choice but to initiate infringement procedures against France."

It was a stinging rebuke from Brussels to one of the European Union's most powerful member states.

In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero expressed "astonishment — that's the least you can say" at the announcement by the European Commission.

"We don't think that with this type of statement, that we can improve the situation of the Roma, who are at the heart of our concerns and our action," Valero told reporters. "Its not time for polemic ... its time for work in favor of the Roma population."

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Reding also harshly criticized French authorities for telling the EU commission that it was not discriminating against Gypsies — a claim apparently contradicted by news reports of a government letter ordering regional officials to speed up a crackdown on illegal Gypsy camps.

"It is my deepest regret that political assurances given by two French ministers is now openly contradicted," Reding said.

She was speaking about France's immigration minister, Eric Besson, and its European affairs minister, Pierre Lellouche. Besson on Monday denied any knowledge of the reported Interior Ministry letter.

Reding at times appeared angry as she read out her statement at the European Commission's Brussels headquarters, once pounding the desk in front of her.

"After 11 years of experience on the commission, I even go further: This is a disgrace," she said. "Discrimination on the basis or ethnic origin or race has no place in Europe."

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