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Germany

German government plays down Roma 'misunderstanding' with France

Politicians in Berlin have said the mixed messages on Roma deportations from Nicolas Sarkozy and Berlin are not a 'strain' on Franco-German relations. Meanwhile, Roma leaders in Germany say camps aren't an issue here.

Nicolas Sarkozy looking pensive

Sarkozy's statements left many Germans scratching their heads

It wasn't really French President Nicolas Sarkozy's dismantling of Roma camps and large-scale deportations that caused controversy in Germany, nor was it his "lively" confrontation with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on the issue, it was his assertion that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was planning to introduce a similar policy.

"Mrs. Merkel told me that Germany also intends to start clearing out camps in the coming weeks," Sarkozy told reporters in Brussels on Thursday evening.

The Chancellor's office in Berlin and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle both swiftly refuted Sarkozy's claims, with Westerwelle saying that such a policy "would run contrary to the German constitution."

However, German leaders are also playing down the significance of this "misunderstanding," saying the confusion will not hurt Germany and France's cooperation bilaterally, or within the EU.

"You should not over-interpret this as a strain on Franco-German relations," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin on Friday.

"No camps" in Germany

Romani Rose

Rose says Germany and France both discriminate, but to different extents

Roma leaders in Germany said they were confused by Sarkozy's statement, given that most German-based Roma are more integrated into society and are less likely to live in makeshift camps.

"For me, it's very clear that (German Chancellor Angela Merkel) said nothing of this nature, primarily because there aren't any camps here in Germany - or, at least, none of which I am aware," the head of the Central Council for German Sinti and Roma, Romani Rose, told the MDR German public broadcaster on Friday. "So, to me, the Chancellor's denial seems entirely credible."

"Sinti and Roma live normally like the rest of the population; they are workers, employees, academics and artists, they're members of sporting clubs, and, very often, people don't even know they're part of an ethnic minority."

Rose said that discrimination remained a major issue in Germany, but usually on an individual level. He referred to a recent survey carried out by the Council in which over 80 percent of respondents said they had encountered some form of discrimination in their day-to-day lives. Sinti and Roma can encounter discrimination when looking for a job or a flat, in individual legal disputes, and even in their local pub, he explained.

"But none of this is comparable with this sweeping, criminalizing campaign being carried out by the upper echelons of the French government, including the president," Rose said. "These policies have caused great concern amongst our people here in Germany, and all over Europe."

The Kosovo question

A Roma family in a makeshift camp in Saint Denis, a northern suburb of Paris.

Rose says Germany has no camps like this one in a Paris suburb

If Germany has a policy comparable to the French mass deportations, it would be the contentious decision to gradually send some 12,000 former refugees, many of whom are Roma, back to their home country of Kosovo now that Germany deems the situation there stable.

Unlike Romania and Bulgaria, where most French-based Roma are being sent, Kosovo is not a member of the European Union, meaning the issue does not fall within the jurisdiction of the EU Commission, France's most high-profile critic on this issue to date.

Rose said he strongly opposed the German policy to repatriate Sinti and Roma, among others, to Kosovo, arguing that April's decision to begin this process was premature and that the government in Pristina was not yet ready to uphold the rights of formerly displaced people.

"It's still irresponsible to send these people back to Kosovo now," he said. "The UN's refugee representative in Berlin has said that the security situation for Roma in Kosovo is not yet satisfactory, international human rights groups like Amnesty International have said the same thing, as has the Central Council for German Sinti and Roma."

But Rose also said that the German government was handling the roughly 12,000 cases differently to France, describing each decision as an "individual example", whereas France was carrying out a deportation policy "en masse."

Author: Mark Hallam (AFP/apn/dpa)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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