Under-fire France to support Romania integration push

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France agreed on Thursday to support Romanian integration of its Roma community, but took flak from the European Parliament for forcing members of the minority to return home.

After meetings between senior French and Romanian officials in Bucharest, the two countries attempted to draw a line under weeks of sniping over France's controversial crackdown.

"France and Romania will work together with the European Union to support the Commission's commitment to social inclusion of the Roma and to help obtain the necessary financing," a joint statement said.

In a joint press conference with the visiting French, Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi said the two countries had agreed "a plan of action that will help us solve the problems which are facing us".

"I believe it is time to bring an end to this sterile rhetoric," Baconschi said.

Romania will establish a new integration plan for the Roma as part of its national strategy for the minority.

"We are prepared to help in this regard," said France's Europe Minister, Pierre Lellouche.

"Then we will plead for this plan in Brussels together," Lellouche said.

Bucharest said it would send 10 extra police officers to Paris to support French efforts to curb crime committed by Romanians.

Earlier Thursday, a European Parliament resolution urged France "immediately to suspend all expulsions of Roma".

The non-binding resolution expressed "deep concern at measures taken by France and other member states targeting Roma and Travellers".

Immigration Minister Eric Besson, who was also in Bucharest for the talks immediately hit back, saying it was "out of the question" for France to suspend expulsions.

"The European parliament has exceeded its prerogatives and we are certainly not going to comply with a political diktat," Besson said.

Ahead of the talks, Lellouche had asked Romanian leaders to do more to integrate their fellow Roma citizens.

"France will call for commitments on police and judiciary cooperation, the fight against human trafficking and integration of Roma in Romania, as part of a national emergency plan spanning 2010-2013," Lellouche told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Paris in its turn pledged to mobilise funds to help Roma in France return and benefit from social inclusion programmes in Romania.

France has deported almost 1,000 Roma migrants to Bulgaria and Romania since President Nicolas Sarkozy's government launched a high-profile security crackdown in July.

Its policy has attracted criticism from both within the country and abroad, increasing tension between France and Romania in particular.

Baconschi attacked France's expulsion policy in an opinion piece in Thursday's edition of the daily Evenimentul Zilei.

"Neither a security crackdown nor a paternalist form of welfare are the answer to Roma problems", he wrote.

"Only a European strategy will allow for a lasting response to the problems and legitimate expectations of this vast community."

Baconschi stressed Romania had already adopted a national strategy for Roma integration and spent nearly 50 million euros since the beginning of the year on programmes meant to improve the lot of the community.

Sarkozy and his ministers have defended their policy in the context of a crackdown on foreign-born criminals.

But Bucharest has said that of the hundreds of Romanian Roma expelled, none had a criminal record.

© 2010 AFP

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