The EU Justice Commissioner has announced an investigation into whether France is complying with EU repatriation laws by deporting Roma to Bulgaria and Romania. Paris is standing by on the policy, rejecting criticism.
France has so far sent 630 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria
The European Union's top justice official expressed concern on Wednesday over France's decision to repatriate Roma people to Romania and Bulgaria, but stopped short of directly criticising the expulsions.
Reding will report her findings next week
"It is clear that those who break the law need to face consequences," Commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement. "It is equally clear that nobody should face expulsion just for being Roma."
Reding said her office was analyzing the situation in France to determine whether the repatriation complied with EU laws on free movement of people. She also said she regretted "that some of the rhetoric that has been used in some Member States in the past weeks has been openly discriminatory and inflammatory."
The Commission's findings will be released next week.
Transitional agreement applies to Roma
France has faced international criticism since it began dismantling Roma camps and sending ethnic Roma found to be living in France illegally back to Bulgaria and Romania in exchange for a 300 Euro (385 dollar) payout.
As part of a transitional agreement for Bulgaria and Romania, which both joined the EU in 2007, Romanians and Bulgarians can travel freely to France but can also be expelled after three months if they cannot show they have the financial means to stay in the country. That arrangement ends in 2014 after the two countries have been in the EU for seven years.
Sarkozy said the camps had "profoundly shocking living standards"
French President Nicolas Sarkozy told his ministers to stay strong and brace for further protests as his government moves to enact more unpopular reforms, including raising the retirement age.
"None of these issues is easy and none of the solutions can be expected to escape criticism or secure unanimous approval," the president said, in remarks passed on to the press by government spokesman Luc Chatel.
When he announced the repatriation operation in late July, Sarkozy said the camps were "sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and of crime."
Asylum talks coming up
On Wedndesday, French interior minister Brice Hortefeux defended the operation. He told RTL radio that 117 camps had so far been dismantled, and 630 people sent home, with 300 more explusions expected by the end of the month. French officials insist that their policy towards the Roma is legitimate.
France is giving deported Roma a 300 Euro payout
In September, French, Spanish, Italian, British and German interior ministers will gather along with international officials to discuss migration. French immigration minister Eric Besson said the talks were called to discuss "asylum issues and the fight against irregular migration" and would not be "specifically covering a specific nationality or ethnic community."
He said Sarkozy had urged his team "not to get sidetracked by useless controversies."
The talks start in Paris on September 6. The meeting has been called ahead of a European conference on asylum, scheduled for September 13-14 in Brussels.
Author: Holly Fox, Joanna Impey (AFP/AP/Reuters)
Editor: Matt Hermann