EU fury at France over 'Nazi-style' round-ups of Roma
The European Commission has compared French expulsions of Roma to Nazi deportations in the Second World War and made an unprecedented threat to take France to the EU courts for "disgraceful" discrimination against an ethnic minority.
Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice and Fundamental Rights, announced the start of "infringement procedures" yesterday after the leak of a French government memorandum instructing police to specifically target Roma gypsies when breaking up illegal camps of travellers.
The commissioner, responsible for upholding free movement rights for all EU citizens, including Bulgarian and Romanian Roma, further fuelled a bitter row over the French deportations of 8,000 gypsies since the beginning of the year by comparing the policy to Nazi round-ups of gypsies and Jews.
"I personally have been appalled by a situation that gave the impression that people are being removed from a member state of the EU just because they belong to an ethnic minority," she said.
"This is a situation I thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War."
Mrs Reding and the commission are incensed that the French authorities misled EU officials during a meeting with Eric Besson, the French immigration minister and Pierre Lellouche, France's Europe minister.
"I can only express my deepest regrets that the political assurance given by two French ministers, officially mandated to discuss this matter with the European Commission, are now openly contradicted by an administrative circular issued by the same government," she said.
The charge of misleading the commission is especially serious because President Nicolas Sarkozy gave personal assurances that France was not targeting Roma during a September 6 meeting in Paris with Jose Manuel Barroso, the commission president.
"This is not a minor offence in a situation of this importance. After 11 years of experience in the commission, I will even go further, this is a disgrace," said Mrs Reding.
The commission is expected to start legal proceedings within in two weeks against France on grounds of discrimination and failing to protect the rights of EU citizens.
France has reacted with "astonishment" to the legal proceedings.
"We don't think that this kind of declaration will help improve the predicament of the Roma, who are at the heart of our concerns," said Bernard Valero, a spokesman for the foreign ministry. (© Daily Telegraph, London)