Sarkozy, Merkel attempt to defuse 'baseless' Roma row

20th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel drew a line Monday under a row over Roma deportations and agreed it was a "baseless" media storm, his office said.

Following a bilateral meeting between the leaders on the sidelines of a UN poverty summit in New York, the French presidency said Merkel and Sarkozy had both been "surprised by the trivial and baseless media controversy."

France has been under fire for weeks over Sarkozy's controversial drive to deport ethnic Roma living in travelling communities in France back to Romania and Bulgaria, and Paris now faces the threat of European legal action.

The row with Germany erupted at a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday when Sarkozy claimed Merkel supported the French policy and had told him Germany had plans to clear its own Roma camps.

The German government later rebutted the claim and said the two had not even discussed the Roma issue. Newspapers in Germany attacked Sarkozy on Friday after his outburst, with one likening him to a "little child."

Germany has been criticized for a deal struck in April with the government of the former Serbian province of Kosovo to return some 14,000 former refugees, including around 10,000 Roma.

Germany stressed at the time that no "mass deportations" were planned, with around 2,500 set to be repatriated each year to Kosovo, which unlike Romania and Bulgaria is not a member of the EU.

The French crackdown escalated into a fierce political row which hijacked last week's EU summit after a top European Union official likened the measures to World War II deportations.

Merkel had initially offered support for Sarkozy, describing the parallel made by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding to the persecution of Gypsies and Jews in World War II as "unfortunate."

Sarkozy was accompanied at Monday's 40-minute meeting by his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who Merkel has invited to Berlin in her role as a global AIDS ambassador.

Sarkozy and Merkel also discussed France's upcoming presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) developed and developing nations, which begins in mid-November, as well as Middle East peace and IMF reform, the French presidency said.

© 2010 AFP

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