France Responds To EU Complaints After Gypsy Spat

France responds to EU complaints after Gypsy spat

By Angela Doland
The Associated Press, October 15, 2010

France is willing to alter some of its laws in response to European Commission complaints that followed the government's expulsions of Gypsies, or Roma, to countries in Eastern Europe, officials said Friday.

France has been locked in a standoff with the EU's head office over its expulsions of some of Europe's poorest minorities, and the commission gave France until midnight to fully implement the EU's directive on freedom of movement across the 27-nation bloc – or face legal action.

In response, the Foreign Ministry said France is willing to amend its laws to match EU regulations, and it said French authorities would meet the deadline. It did not spell out the exact changes to be made.

The EU requires the expelling nation to follow certain procedures, such as issuing a written expulsion order and giving people the possibility of appeal – and those issues are among the EU's complaints about France.

In recent months, France has expelled more than 1,000 Roma immigrants, mostly to Romania, and demolished hundreds of illegal Roma camps. It frames its actions as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration and crime, and it says most of the migrants are leaving France voluntarily, with a small stipend.

Critics say France is unfairly targeting an ethnic minority and lumping together entire communities instead of handling the expulsions on a case-by-case basis.

At one point, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding linked the expulsions to the mass deportations of World War II – a comparison for which she later expressed regret. President Nicolas Sarkozy called the comment 'disgusting.'

The EU has stopped short of formally accusing France of discrimination, but it expressed serious concerns about other aspects of France's expulsions.

While Romanians and Bulgarians, as EU citizens, have a right to enter France without a visa, they must prove they won't become a burden on the state for stays longer than three months.

There are up to 12 million Roma in the EU, most living in dire circumstances, victims of poverty, discrimination, violence, unemployment and bad housing.