• Viviane Reding - standing her ground (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Reding says French reaction on Roma linked to sexism

22.09.10 @ 09:21

  1. By Honor Mahony
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EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding is standing firm in her ongoing row with France over its controversial Roma policy, refusing to apologise and arguing that the reaction to the harsh words she aimed at Paris last week would have been different if she was a man.

Speaking in a public forum for the first time since her comparison of France's deportation of Roma to events in World War II - remarks that provoked fury in Paris - Ms Reding on Tuesday (21 September) said "No, Why?" when asked directly whether she would apologise for the comments.

The Luxembourgish politician, now in her third term as commissioner, said she believed she had been "strengthened" by the resulting polemic.

"If a man bangs his fist on the table, it is considered manly, he is defending himself. If a woman bangs her fist on the table she is hysterical," she told reporters at a press conference in Strasbourg, according to AFP news agency.

She made a semi retraction of her comments ahead of an EU summit last Thursday after French president Nicolas Sarkozy, according to French daily Le Monde, threatened to boycott the Brussels gathering.

It was noticeable however that while EU leaders generally agreed that her comments overstepped the mark, virtually all accepted that the commission was within its rights as guardian of the EU treaties to examine Paris' actions.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has also authorised a tough policy against the ethnic minority, was alone in criticising the commission and siding with Mr Sarkozy.

Ms Reding on Tuesday also affirmed her intention to press ahead with investigating France's policy in light of EU law.

The commission's experts are looking at two issues: whether France failed to properly transpose EU law on the free movement of people and whether the country has violated the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The commissioner said the opinions will be ready within the coming days. The college of commissioners as a whole then has to decide to whether to press ahead with taking France to court, a decision it is due to take next week (29 September).

Ms Reding's determined stance came as French Prime Minister Francois Fillon warned that while the commission should guard EU law it should "not go beyond" the role entrusted to it by the EU treaties.

"It is perfectly legitimate that the European Commission verifies the legality of the conduct of operations on illegal encampments. But the Commission should refrain from any hasty value judgements," he said on Tuesday.

The apparent trigger for Ms Reding's outburst - that senior French officials had lied to her about whether Roma were specifically targetted for deportation by French authorities - has been formally denied by Paris.

According to a note from the "French authorities" addressed to the commissioner, neither immigration minister Eric Besson or Europe minister Pierre Lellouche knew of the existence of a now infamous French circular which specifically referred to Roma when talking about the clearance of illegal camps.

The note to the commissioner, seen by AFP, says neither politician was aware of the circular, signed by the head of cabinet of the interior minister, when they met Ms Reding in Brussels at the end of August to discuss France's Roma policy.

The whole episode has sparked an extraordinary stand-off between the European Commission and Paris, and caused tension between Luxembourg and France, as well as between Paris and Berlin after Mr Sarkozy indicated that Germany was planning to close similar camps, something roundly denied by Berlin.

In recent days, all sides have worked to restore calm at the diplomatic level. But little of substance has been said about tackling the root problems of the Roma, the EU's largest ethnic minority.

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