Sarkozy snaps as Roma row boils over at summit

16th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

French President Nicolas Sarkozy snapped Thursday as tensions over his government's repatriation of Roma Gypsies boiled over in a "fierce" clash during a European Union summit.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said Sarkozy got sucked into a "fierce exchange" with European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso over lunch, after Brussels' top bureaucrat backed legal moves against Paris this week.

"Yes, there was a clash," said an EU source who explained that Barroso "vigorously defended" the role of the commission, which polices the application of EU-wide laws governing freedom of movement for all citizens.

The source insisted that Barroso told Sarkozy the commission would "not allow itself to be distracted from our work."

A senior diplomat had earlier told AFP that Sarkozy, set to take the chair of the G20 in November, quickly raised the issue, which has dominated a summit supposed to be about foreign relations, trade and the economy.

The son of a Hungarian immigrant, Sarkozy told fellow leaders: "The commission has wounded France," in reference to a threat to drag Paris before the European Court of Justice.

Barroso on Wednesday backed his justice chief Viviane Reding after France reacted angrily to Reding's suggestion that returning Roma Gypsies to Bulgaria and Romania provided echoes of World War II deportations.

Borisov noted that the question of how Roma Gypsies are handled, for which Sarkozy won public backing only from Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, would be broached during "a subsequent summit" in a bid to find a "long-term strategy" for dealing with traveller populations.

© 2010 AFP

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