In its first direct criticism of France, the European Commission has today expressed its massive discontent at the French government's crackdown on its population of Roma and threatened legal action while also branding President Sarkozy's policy “disgraceful”.
Over the summer, President Sarkozy and the French Government have deported about 1,000 Roma
people from within its borders back to Romania and Bulgaria. The mass expulsion of a community based on its ethnicity was duly met with widespread condemnation, but not such inexplicit terms by the EU.
(That said, the European Parliament did pass a non-binding resolution in its last plenary session
calling for Mr Sarkozy to end his expulsion of the Roma, calling the measures “discriminatory and contrary to Community law
” and pointing out that that collective expulsions “violate European law because they discriminate based on race
But now the EU message is clear: stop immediately or face lengthy legal action which she also said should be “fast-tracked
In her statement, Viviane Reding
, a Vice-President and European Commissioner for Justice and Fundamental Rights, attacked the Sarkozy government likening the recent deportations to France's treatment of Jews during the Second World War under the Vichy Regime
and said the EU had no option but to launch infringement proceedings - meaning France could be hauled before the European Court of Justice.
This development effectively represents a policy U-turn from the Commission as only a few days ago she declared that France was sending “very positive
” signals on its Roma policy and even the Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, called for a truce on the issue.
“I can only express my deepest regrets that the political assurances 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,
” Ms Reding declared
before a half-empty press room.
“This is not a minor offence. This is a disgrace … my patience is wearing thin. Enough is enough.”
Until today, Ms Reding had refused to say whether France was breaking the 2004 law enshrining freedom of movement across the EU (Directive 2004/38/EC
). Romania and Bulgaria are both EU member states thus subject to this directive and the Roma deported from France are as such EU citizens. The Commission is mandated to upholding European law as laid down by EU treaties, and thus it could hardly keep schtum.
“I have been appalled by a situation which gave the impression that people are being removed from a member state just because they belong to a certain ethnic minority. This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War,
” Ms Reding continued.
“I am personally convinced that the Commission will have no choice but to initiate infringement action against France.
“I also take issue with the statements by Lallouche
[Pierre, the French Minister for Europe] questioning the role of the Commission as guardian of the treaties
,” she said. “The Commission's role is one of the foundations of the EU – a union which is held together not by force, but by respect of the rule of law agreed upon by all member states, including France.
“No member state can expect special treatment, especially not 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.”
According to EURactiv
, France's Foreign Ministry have since responded to the statement with ''astonishment'' and attempted to play down the controversy surrounding France's recent Roma expulsions.