EU commission monitoring French Roma explusions
The European Commission is keeping a close eye on the French government's round-up and expulsion of Roma to ensure that EU rules are not breached, the EU executive said on Wednesday (18 August) on the eve of the deportations.
"We are watching the situation very closely to make sure rules are respected," said Matthew Newman, spokesman for EU fundamental rights commissioner Viviane Reding.
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"If a state is deporting anyone, we must be sure it is proportionate. It must be on a case-by-case basis and not an entire population," he continued.
Referencing a 2004 EU law on the free movemnt of citizens, he said: "The rules are pretty clear. They apply to France and they apply to any other EU country."
However, Mr Newman said the commission did not feel that Paris is engaged in a "mass expulsion".
Two commissioners are understood to be monitoring the situation, Ms Reding and Laszlo Andor, the employment and social affairs commissioner.
In a move that has given President Nicolas Sarkozy a bump in opinion polls, the government has ordered the destruction of some 300 Roma settlements which were constructed without permission, and the expulsion from the country of a number of gypsies and their repatriation to Romania.
Paris for its part maintains that it is indeed in compliance with European rules. Foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told AFP news agency European law "expressly allows for restrictions on the right to move freely for reasons of public order, public security and public health".
So far, some 51 camps have been broken up in the run-up to the deportations. Meanwhile, a flight taking 79 Roma to Bucharest as part of what the government describes as a voluntary repatriation is to take off on Thursday.
A second flight is scheduled next week and a third in September. A total of 700 out of the country's estimated 15,000 Roma are expected to be kicked out.
Paris says that the individuals have agreed to return to Romania in exchange for €300 a piece. Children get a cut-rate €100 for agreeing to leave France.
Mr Newman stressed that European law allows for the free movement of EU citizens anywhere in the bloc's 27 member states. Despite the expulsions, there is nothing to prevent the individuals from heading back to France the very next day.
The commission had previously come in for sharp criticism from human rights campaigners for taking a hands-off approach to the issue, saying the the commission had no competence in what was exclusively a matter for member states.
Romanian foreign minister Teodor Baconschi also issued his concerns about France's expulsions.
"I am worried about the risks of populism and xenophobic reactions against the backdrop of economic crisis", he told the Romanian service of Radio France International.