France hit by EU legal threat over Roma 'disgrace'
The European Commission threatened Tuesday legal action against France over its crackdown of Roma minorities, comparing their treatment to World War II-era deportations.
The EU's top justice official, Viviane Reding, angrily rebuked the French government for sending hundreds of Roma migrants back to Romania and Bulgaria since August in a security sweep ordered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"I personally have been 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," Reding said.
"This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," she told a news conference.
Reding chided the French government after a leaked memo "openly contradicted" assurances given by two ministers to the commission that specific ethnic groups had not been targeted in France.
"The role of the commission as guardian of the treaties is made extremely difficult if we can no longer have confidence in the assurances given by two ministers in a formal meeting," she said.
"This is not a minor offence in a situation of this importance," she said. "After 11 years of experience in the Commission, I even go further: this is a disgrace."
The French government, which denies targetting Roma minorities and insists its measures comply with EU laws, said it was "astonished" by the criticism but that it would not be drawn into an argument.
France has deported almost 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.
The European Commission said its legal analysis of the Roma crackdown would be completed in the coming days.
"I am personally convinced that the commission will have no choice but to initiate infringement proceedings against France," Reding said, referring to the first step in a process that can lead to a case before the European Union's top court of justice.
The commission would take France to task "for a discriminatory application" of the 27-nation European Union's freedom of movement directive, she said.
"I will of course give the French authorities the right to submit comments on the new developments in the course of the next days. But I make it very clear my patience is wearing thin: enough is enough," Reding said.
"No member state can expect special treatment, especially not when fundamental values and European laws are at stake.
"This applies today to France. This applies equally to all other member states, big or small, which would be in a similar situation. You can count on me for that."
© 2010 AFP