EU commissioner criticism of Roma policy 'unseemly': France

15th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

France snapped back at EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding on Wednesday over her "unseemly" criticism of its Roma policy, including her comparison of the expulsions to World War II-era deportations.

"This kind of gaffe that she made is unseemly," Pierre Lellouche told RTL radio.

He was speaking a day after the European Union's top justice official criticised French mass expulsions of the Roma minority and threatened legal action against Paris.

"That's enough of her tone, my patience has its limits, that's not the way to speak to a great state," Lellouche said.

Reding said she was "appalled by a situation which gave the impression that people are being removed from a member state of the European Union just because they belong to a certain ethnic minority.

"This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," she added, warning of looming infringement proceedings by the European Commission.

France has faced increasing international criticism since President Nicolas Sarkozy in August stepped up its deportations of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria as part of a security clampdown.

"As a French minister, as a French citizen, as the son of someone who fought in the free French forces (against the Nazis), I cannot let Mrs Reding say that France in 2010 is the (collaborationist) France of Vichy," Lellouche said.

Thousands of Jews, Gypsies, Roma and other so-called "undesirables" were deported from France to Nazi death camps under the Vichy regime.

"A cash handout, a plane ticket to the EU country of origin are not the same as the death camps, the gas chambers," Lellouche said.

He had had spoken to Reding and told her he hoped that "her passion overtook her thought," he added.

Reding's criticisms specifically chided Paris for a leaked memo which "openly contradicted" assurances given by French ministers that specific ethnic groups had not been targeted.

The August 5 memo, sent to police chiefs, states that "300 camps or illegal settlements must be cleared within three months, Roma camps are a priority."

It was signed by the interior minister's chief of staff.

"The role of the commission as guardian of (Europe's) treaties is made extremely difficult if we can no longer have confidence in the assurances given by two ministers in a formal meeting," Reding said.

"This is not a minor offence," she said. "After 11 years of experience in the commission, I even go further: this is a disgrace."

The French government denies targeting Roma minorities specifically and insists its measures comply with EU laws. It said it was astonished by Reding's criticism but that it would not be drawn into an argument.

France has deported more than 1,000 Roma migrants to Bulgaria and Romania since last month, and more than 8,000 Roma have been deported since the beginning of the year, after 9,875 were expelled in 2009.

On the day Brussels threatened legal action, France flew 222 Roma to Bucharest on two charter flights from Paris and the southern city of Marseille, according to figures from Romanian border police.

The EU parliament urged France to suspend the removal of Gypsies last week, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned Monday that the measures "exacerbate the stigmatisation of Roma."

The European Commission said its legal analysis of the Roma crackdown would be completed in the coming days, with Reding on Wednesday writing in France's Liberation daily that Paris appeared to be aware it had gone too far.

"I note that the French authorities themselves appear to be becoming aware that this weekend's events put them in an untenable position," she wrote in the opinion piece.

"I note that the interior minister has signed a new memo removing references to a specific ethnic group," she wrote.

She added: "It's important that not only the words change but the behaviour of French authorities also."

© 2010 AFP

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