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September 14, 2010
EU set to take France to court over Roma policy
In a rare outburst of criticism against France, the EU commission said it will take Paris to court after leaked documents proved that French police were instructed to specifically target Roma in the accelerated expulsions which took place last month.
"I am personally convinced that the commission will have no choice but initiate infringement procedures against France," EU justice and fundamental rights commissioner Viviane Reding said Tuesday (14 September) during a press briefing.
The commission is likely to file two cases against France, one for "discriminatory application" of the EU law on freedom of movement and another one for having legal gaps in the transposition of this law into national legislation.
A decision is expected to be taken by the whole commission in the coming two weeks, she said, adding that she will ask for "fast-track" procedures. The sanctions are yet to be defined - they could entail a fine or simply the change of the national legislation.
But the political embarrassment for Mr Sarkozy´s government is already clear, even though he has pocketed two percentage points for the zero-tolerance security measures which led to the levelling of dozens of Roma camps and ´voluntary deportations´ of some 900 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens.
"My patience is wearing thin. Enough is enough," Ms Reding said, while pounding her fist on the pulpit.
"No member state can expect special treatment when fundamental values and European laws are at stake. This applies today to France. This applies equally to all other member states, big or small, which would be in a similar situation. You can count on me for that."
Ms Reding said she was initially "apalled" by the measures which started last month, as they "gave the impression that people are expelled just for being part of a minority."
But the outburst of the Luxembourg politician was triggered by the revelation that all assurances given to her by French ministers were "openly contradicted" by three leaked documents issued by the French ministry of interior in which it advises police officers and local authorities to target Roma camps "with priority."
"The role of the commission as guardian of the [EU] treaties is made extremely difficult if we can no longer have confidence in the assurances given by two ministers in a formal meeting with two Commissioners and with around 15 senior officials on the table from both sides."
"This is not a minor offence in a situation of this importance. After 11 years of experience in the commission, I would even go further: This is a disgrace."
Following the publication of the initial orders, the French government on Monday issued new instructions, leaving out any reference to Roma, but Ms Reding indicated that she remained sceptical.
"It is important that not only words change, but also the behaviour of French authorities. It is shocking that a part of the government comes here and says something and the other part does the contrary in Paris."
Ms Reding also "took note" of the statements made Monday by the French EU affairs secretary Pierre Lellouche, who said it was not the EU, but the "French people" who had to look after the EU treaties, since it was the national parliament who ratified the law.
"The commission´s role as guardian of the treaties is one of the foundations of the European Union – a Union which is held together not by force, but by respect of the rule of law agree upon by all member states, including France," Ms Reding pointed out.