Merkel denies backing Sarkozy over Roma row
GERMANY and France were in open dispute last night after Angela Merkel flatly denied telling Nicolas Sarkozy her government would soon start expelling Roma gypsies.
Following heated exchanges at an EU summit over his Roma-expulsion policy, the French president said the German chancellor had expressed "total solidarity" with him and said she would shortly move against illegal traveller camps in Germany.
However, a spokesman for Chancellor Merkel disputed Mr Sarkozy's claims.
"Merkel never spoke of so-called Roma camps in Germany -- neither during the summit, nor on the margins with the French president -- and in no case would she have spoken of evacuations," said the spokesman.
Guido Westerwelle, Germany's foreign minister, said the country could not follow the French lead and described Mr Sarkozy's interpretation as a "misunderstanding".
Mr Sarkozy made the claim after the summit on Thursday, which had descended into a bitter row between the French leader and the European Commission, after he was criticised for his drive to clean up gypsy encampments and offer compensation to inhabitants to return to Eastern Europe.
"Madame Merkel indicated to me her will to proceed in the coming weeks with the evacuation of camps," said the French leader on Thursday evening, adding, with a smile: "We'll see how calm German political life will become then."
But even Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, said he had no recollection of such a discussion.
Mr Sarkozy is thought to have been referring to a deal between Germany and Kosovo to return up to 14,000 refugees, including about 10,000 Roma, who fled the region in the aftermath of the 1999 war with Serbia.
The Germans have stressed that no "mass deportations" are planned. About 2,500 refugees, who do not live in camps, are to be repatriated each year.
Also, unlike the Romanian and Bulgarian Roma gypsies expelled from France, Germany's Kosovar refugees are not EU citizens. (© Daily Telegraph, London)