German chancellor rebuts suggestion that she plans gipsy clearances
Angela Merkel has flatly denied Nicolas Sarkozy's claim she told the French president that Germany was planning to follow France's example and begin clearing illegal camps of migrant gipsies.
By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
Published: 12:25PM BST 17 Sep 2010
Chancellor Merkel was told, after arriving back in Berlin following a fractious EU summit on Thursday night, that President Sarkozy had publicly announced that Germany would begin expelling 12,000 Roma next month.
Guido Westerwelle, Germany's foreign minister, used diplomatic language, to describe the issue as “misunderstanding” but dismissed the suggestion as false.
“There was no such announcement by the chancellor. It would run contrary to the German constitution,” he said.
Following heated exchanges over his Roma policy at an EU summit, Mr Sarkozy claimed that the Chancellor had expressed “total solidarity” with France in a fight with the European Commission over the legality of the gipsy expulsions.
“Mrs Merkel informed me she would be evacuating a number of settlements and camps,” said the French leader, before joking, “We'll see how calm German political life will become then”.
A spokesman for Mrs Merkel insisted that Mr Sarkozy's account was completely inaccurate. “Chancellor Merkel never spoke of so-called Roma camps in Germany, neither during the summit nor on the margins with the French president – and in no case would she have spoken of evacuations,” he said.
In a further embarrassment, Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, also said that he had no recollection of the discussion. “History will decide. I was there all the time,” he said. The president didn't tell me anything in particular on the matter. I don't know if this happened in private.”
Viviane Reding, the EU's justice commissioner, had infuriated Paris by condemning Mr Sarkozy's treatment of Roma gipsies as a “disgrace” that reminded her of wartime Vichy France's collaboration with Nazi deportations of Jews and gipsies.
According to Boyko Borisov, the prime minister of Bulgaria, the French President harangued Jose Manuel Barroso during “an intense exchange of sharp words”.
“There was a big argument – I could also say a scandal – between the president of the European Commission and the French president,” he said.
Mr Sarkozy's version was very different. “If there was one person who remained calm and did not use excessive language, it was me,” he said.
The Commission has accused the French authorities of misleading EU officials in a series of meetings with Eric Besson, the French immigration minister and Pierre Lellouche, France's Europe minister.
Both ministers gave Brussels assurance that the French authorities were not targeting gipsies, an account that undermined when an official circular telling police to “prioritise Roma” was leaked on Monday.
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