• Friends again: Barroso (l) and Sarkozy have buried the Roma hatchet (Photo: consilium.eu)

EU Commission backs down in Roma row with France

29.09.10 @ 15:58

  1. By Valentina Pop
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BRUSSELS - The EU commission on Wednesday (29 September) decided to go for the less controversial legal action against France for not having properly transposed EU law into national legislation, but refrained from suing Paris for discriminating against an ethnic group and simply asked for "more information".

Deliberations on how to proceed against France lasted two and a half hours longer than expected, after a joint presentation by justice commissioner Viviane Reding and her colleagues in charge of home affairs and employment.

The decision, presented in French by the commission's main spokeswoman, was "taken unanimously", with the delay allegedly due to the "busy agenda" of the meeting, as a package on economic governance was also adopted on Wednesday.

But divergent views over the outcome of the meeting were already apparent minutes after it had finished, with Ms Reding telling France-24 tv network that the commission "decided to launch an infringement proceeding" against France for improper transposition of EU law on freedom of movement.

Meanwhile, a few floors below, journalists were told that the infringement procedure will start "as part of an October package" against several other countries and only if Paris does not come up with a calendar for transposition by 15 October.

As to the more embarrassing and delicate legal case on discrimination after a leaked circular of the ministry of interior proved that French authorities were instructed to target Roma camps "with priority", the commission decided that there was not enough legal ground to sue Paris.

In a fiery speech that angered Paris by comparing its policies to those of the Nazi regime, Ms Reding earlier this month announced that the commission will "have no choice" but to launch an infringement procedure against France for discrimination.

The French government has since withdrawn the circular, which was in force for over one month, during which Romanian and Bulgarian citizens were evacuated from the camps and given 300 euros to fly home.

Speaking at a later briefing, EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso emphasised the "assurances" given by French authorities that no discrimination had taken place.

"We have decided to send a letter to the French authorities today and there will a complete legal briefing. But I don't want to comment further on these very sensitive legal issues," he said.

"We take decisions based on EU law, on what the justice directorate and the legal services have instructed us," he added.

Mr Barroso also pointed to the "taskforce" on Roma issues within the commission. Led by Ms Reding along with home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and the top official for social affairs and employment, Laszlo Andor, the task force is going to look at what member states are doing with EU money destined for Roma projects.

EU officials are suggesting that Paris is still not off the hook on the non-discrimination front, as Ms Reding is keen on seeing how these "political reassurances" are transposed in practice. So far, "she has no legal case," one source told this website, "but the war is not over yet."

Reacting promptly to what is a victory for Paris, France stressed that it is "not currently engaged" in any activities in breach of EU law on the freedom of movement, "especially when it comes to the deportation of EU citizens taken after the evacuation of illegal camps in August."

In a statement, a spokesperson for the foreign minister promised that Paris will send all the necessary information required by Brussels.

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