France sends Europe fresh data ahead of Roma ruling

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France has sent EU officials fresh data on its controversial Roma crackdown ahead of a ruling on its legality expected next week, the European Commission said Wednesday.

"The French authorities have supplied new elements that will complete the Commission's analysis," said spokesman Olivier Bailly, who refused further details.

But a document seen by AFP indicates that Paris has forwarded a note on a controversial French government memo dated August 5 that triggered its row with Brussels and the possibility of judicial action against France.

The August memo is key to whether France will stand accused of violating European Union legislation, a process which could lead to a case before the EU's highest court.

Brussels is examining whether France violated its freedom of movement regulations amid allegations the French authorities targeted Roma minorities specifically.

France could also face a separate procedure on whether there was a violation of the European charter on fundamental rights, which would be a first in the 27-nation bloc.

In the document seen by AFP, France states that "the aim and effect of the August 5 memo was not to create any discrimination whatsoever, contrary to the fear you have expressed."

It says that this is because most of the camps dismantled by police were inhabited by French national travellers, not Romanian nor Bulgarian Roma Gypsies.

The note in question, signed by Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux's chief of staff Michel Bart, was sent to police chiefs to outline "specific objectives".

"Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be cleared within three months, Roma camps are a priority," it said.

After the memo was leaked to the media, the EU's top justice official Viviane Reding threatened France with legal action.

She said Tuesday the EU charter states that "you cannot have mass deportation, and no discrimination based upon race or ethnicity, so it's very clear."

Spokesman Bailly said Reding would report to other members of the European Commission next Wednesday on the question "to enable a potential decision". A statement might be issued the following day.

France is among 15 or 16 member states chastised for its failure to write EU rules on free movement into national legislation.

But a charge of discrimination would be far more embarrassing for Paris, and an EU source said the Commission would need a water-tight case to go ahead.

© 2010 AFP

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