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Row Over The Roma Festers, As EU Leaders Meet …

  • September 17th, 2010
  • Posted by EUEditor

berlaymont-resize-1503.jpgEuropean Union Heads of Government are meeting at Brussels amid reactions to the criticism of France over its treatment of Roma people, by the EC Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding.

The Commissioner, on the eve of this week’s summit, condemned the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, over the break-up of gypsy camps and deportations to Bulgaria and Romania, threatening court action for contravention of EU laws on rights of citizens and free movement.

“Discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or race has no place in Europe”, she said. (See EUAustralia Online, “Sarkozy’s touiuble on two fronts …”, 15.9.10).

French politicians from the conservative government majority objected loudly, in particular to the Commissioner’s statement, that the deportations recalled the days of mass deportation during World War II.

None had missed the point, that the use of the French police to deport Jewish citizens to Nazi death camps is remembered as an historic betrayal of trust.

Many European leaders, some on their way to Brussels for the meeting now getting under way, agreed that the comparison, and some of the condemnatory language, had gone too far – but still supported an EC investigation of the actions by France.

One of those, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, has wanted the matter brought to the Brussels summit.

Only one Head of Government, Silvio Berlusconi, from Italy, supported the French President.

He said the European Commission had not understood the current problems of Europe with migration, whereas the French government did; and he believed Ms Reding should have talked privately with the French before speaking out.

Both Ms Reding, and the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, conceded today that the comparison with the deportations of Jews and others, in the 1940s, was wrong — while still reiterating other points in their criticism of France.

The Paris newspaper Le Monde provided a round-up of European media reactions to the dispute, saying the issue was threatening to take over discussion at the summit, that was intended to set out united positions on foreign policy and economic recovery.

The weekly European Voice, in Brussels, said most governments were withholding comment, while awaiting the outcome of a review of the legal situation by the EC, expected to take a fortnight.

It quoted the Finnish Foreign Minister, Alexander Stubb, on concerns being felt about any signs of ethnic discrimination in official policy in Europe.

“When we promote free trade, climate change and human rights around the world we need to have our own backyard in order”, he said.

French government leaders, while calling the statement on deportation “unacceptable”, also sniped at Commissioner Reding over her Luxembourg nationality, suggesting the tiny country should accept displaced gypsies.

The government did undertake to continue discussion of the issue with the European Commission.


Constant Brand, “Reding divides the EU with attack on France”, European Voice, Brussels, 16.9.10., (16.9.10).

Le Monde, Paris, “La presse européenne craint que la brouille Sarkozy-Reding monopolise le sommet de l’UE, (European media fear the flare-up between Sarkozy and reding will take over the European Summit), 16.9.10., (16.9.10).

Haroon Siddique and agencies, “Roma expulsions by France overshadow EU summit opening”, The Guardian, Manchester, 16.9.10., (16.9.10).

Picture European Commission building, Brussels