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Europe

European Commission announces legal action against France's Roma policy

France's recent crackdown and deportation of Roma has caught the attention of the European Commission, which is now seeking legal action against Paris for breaking the EU's freedom of movement rules.

Roma at a check in desk at a French airport

France's policy of flying Roma out of the country is under fire

The European Commission has decided to take legal action against France for its controversial practice of deporting Roma who are not French citizens to Romania and Bulgaria.

Since July of this year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government has been implementing a crackdown on illegal travellers' camps.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy has defended France's crackdown

However, critics of the policy say the country is unfairly targeting an ethnic minority, and accuse Sarkozy of using the crackdown for political gain.

Time to respond

The European Commission's legal action asserts that France's Roma deportations are in violation of EU freedom of movement rules implemented in 2004. France is blamed for not specifically writing these into its national legislation.

"France is not enforcing European law as it should on free movement, so we are launching an infringement process against France," said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding in Brussels on Wednesday.

However, the Commission's decision against France is being widely seen as a warning for its exclusion of the freedom of movement rules. The country has until October 15 to respond, when a "letter of formal notice" would be sent and legal infringement proceedings would actually begin. If France indicates a clear outline to amend its national legislation, it could avoid legal proceedings all together.

Sigh of relief

France also avoided any official reprimand from the European Commission for discrimination against minorities, to the relief of the foreign ministry.

"France is pleased not to have been accused of discrimination by the European Commission regarding its policy of Roma expulsions and is ready to provide more information to Brussels," read a statement from the ministry.

Police raids on travellers' camps in France are said to have targeted Roma specifically, leading to speculation that Brussels would call France to task for discrimination.

Police at a Roma camp in France

Police raids in France were criticized for targeting Roma

Deportations not new

Around 8,000 Roma have been deported this year in what the French government says is an effort to fight crime and illegal immigration. While the deportations this year have sparked widespread controversy, both from within France and the international community, France has actually been doing it for years.

In 2009, for instance, around 10,000 Roma were deported, according to the French foreign ministry.

The ministry has defended its actions and said they do comply with European Union rules, as there are explicit provisions to restrict the right to move freely in the EU for reasons of public order, public safety, or public health.

Author: Matt Zuvela (dpa, AP, AFP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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