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14th Aug 2022

End in sight to Roma row after French decision

Lawyers for justice commissioner Viviane Reding are analysing a letter from Paris detailing plans to change French immigration law in line with EU demands in the context of the Roma dispute.

"We'll check what they submit. We'll have our best lawyers on the case this weekend to verify that they have satisfied our demands," Ms Reding's spokesman told EUobserver on Friday evening (15 October).

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The European Commission received the documents from the French authorities at 10.15pm local time, less than an hour before the deadline Paris had to meet in order to avoid formal infringement proceedings.

The French foreign ministry in a communique published on Friday morning said it is willing to make the changes required. A source at the French foreign ministry later told this website that the formal notification had been sent to Brussels by courier and that if gets there late it would be a mere "procedural error."

The commission wants France to fully transpose into national law its 2004 directive on freedom of movement in the Union. France had in the past said that its case law is sufficient for compliance but Ms Reding did not agree.

Under the directive, a person who is to be deported has the right to ask for a one month delay, the right to appeal and the right to receive a written notice of deportation.

"If you are asked to leave the country, that must be balanced out with procedural rights on the other side. We're saying the guarantees must be written into French law for full transparency. If you are in a field about to be put on a plane you want to know what your rights are. You're not going to go to the law library [to study case history]," the Reding spokesman said.

The French decision is a political victory for the commission in a rare standoff with one of the Union's most powerful member states.

Ms Reding raised the spectre of infringement proceedings after France in summer began to deport hundreds of Roma back to Bulgaria and Romania.

The dispute turned ugly when leaked documents from the French interior ministry indicated that police were asked to round up people on the basis of their ethnic origin.

Comments by Ms Reding comparing the move to World-War-II-era Roma deportations to death camps led a livid French President Nicolas Sarkozy to shout grievances at commission President Jose Manuel Barroso at an EU summit.

It is unclear what will happen on the ground to Roma people in France following France's decision to change the law.

Meanwhile, tensions remain between Brussels and Paris despite Friday's developments. Asked by EUobserver if Brussels has effectively won the dispute, the French foreign ministry source said: "It doesn't change French policy on the expulsion of people who are here illegally. And France is not the only [EU] country which has yet to fully transpose the directive. There are about 14 others."

Ms Reding's spokesman said details of other non-compliant countries are not being made public. He added that Brussels will continue to monitor France on the issue of respect for EU values on non-discrimination even if its legal regime is adjusted.

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