Euro-MPs slam France over Romas

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Euro-MPs slammed France on Tuesday over President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to deport Roma migrants overstaying their welcome, but the European Commission stayed out of the fray.

Debating the issue at the European Parliament, members across the political spectrum spoke out against Sarkozy's August decision to dismantle unauthorised Gypsy encampments and fly Eastern European Roma home to Romania and Bulgaria.

But as some MEPs dubbed the policy "unacceptable", Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, stood up to say she was satisfied by France's justifications of the move.

"Thanks to a very intense dialogue between the European Commission and the French authorities over the past weeks I see an important development," she said.

"France has no intention to target actions against the Roma community."

In Brussels, a spokesman said the European Commission was steering clear of all controversy with France over the issue.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Sarkozy had agreed at a meeting on Monday that "there was no interest for both parties to create a controversy out of this issue", said spokesman Olivier Bailly.

The two also agreed "it is important to deepen their cooperation and their constructive dialogue" over a serious question that "should be dealt with the same level of seriousness".

To that effect, the Commission set up a Roma "Task Force" on Tuesday to assess the use of European Union funds already set aside for Roma integration.

"The money is available, the money is not used in order to solve the problem," said Reding.

"Why? Because it might be that it is not very popular in our member states to take the money of Europe in order to invest it into the Roma community. I hope I am wrong."

But some Euro-MPs countered that the Commmission simply was not doing its job.

Socialist Austrian Hannes Swoboda and Romanian Liberal Renate Weber both dubbed the Commission's stand "unacceptable", warning it could encourage countries such as Italy and Hungary to follow suit by also sending Gypsies home.

"The Commission is in denial of reality, it isn't taking on its responsibilities," said French Greens member Helene Flautre.

The Liberal, Socialist, Green and Communist political groups presented draft resolutions to condemn Roma expulsions by France, with a vote due Thursday.

France touched off an international storm in August for ordering police to clear away unauthorised Gypsy camps following a public order incident.

While French-born Gypsies were moved on, Eastern European Roma unable to prove they had the means to integrate into mainstream society were flown back home by the hundreds to Romania and Bulgaria.

France's Secretary of State for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche, who will be travelling to Romania Thursday, said criticism of his government by the Euro-MPs was both "excessive and injust".

In Milan meanwhile, Italian police said they had evacuated and dismantled a Roma camp near the northern city of Milan as demolitions and transfers into "legal" camps were also under way in Rome.

© 2010 AFP

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