Monday

23rd Jul 2018

Paris tells Brussels: 'You do not speak to us like this'

  • The Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Lellouche: 'A plane ticket to one's country of origin in the European Union is not a death train, and is not the gas chamber' (Photo: OliverN5)

France's junior minister for EU affairs has said to the European Commission: "This is not how you speak to a major power like France," following stinging comments on Roma expulsions by EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding.

Focusing in on the commissioner's remark on Tuesday that "this is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," the French politician said on Wednesday (15 September) that Ms Reding's "unseemly" remarks in effect compare France to the Nazi regime.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

"A plane ticket to one's country of origin in the European Union is not a death train, and is not the gas chamber," he said, according to Radio France. "This kind of slip ... is not acceptable."

"This is not how you speak to a major power like France, which is the mother of human rights."

A spokesman for the French foreign ministry had earlier said Paris was "astonished" by Ms Reding's statement. "We don't think that this kind of declaration will help improve the predicament of the Roma, who are at the heart of our concerns," spokesman Bernard Valero said.

The head of Mr Sarkozy's UMP party in the National Assembly, Jean-Francois Cope, speaking on Canal Plus also dismissed Ms Reding's comments as "baseless accusations" and suggested the EU commission had "ulterior motives."

French authorities deported over 200 Roma to Romania the same day that Ms Reding spoke out on the commission podium. Some 230 explees, including children, landed in Bucharest on Tuesday in what France is calling "voluntary deportations" in defiance of human rights groups.

Most of the Roma interviewed by journalists upon arrival in Romania said they would return to France, because the economic situation is better, even if they get deported again. Romanian local authorities are speed-tracking procedures for social assistance, but the fresh aid is unlikely to keep them in the country.

Over 440 Roma camps have been dismantled in the past month and more than 1,000 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens sent back to their home countries as part of the massive crackdown on "illegal immigration" ordered by President Nicolas Sarkozy at the end of July.

Ms Reding on Tuesday said she was "appalled" at the French policy. She called the developments a "disgrace" and said the commission will take legal action against Paris at the EU court in Luxembourg.

All the political groups in the European Parliament have welcomed her intervention, except for the centre-right European People's Party, to which, awkwardly, both Mr Sarkozy and Ms Reding are affiliated.

In a notable exception, the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, who is also a member of the EPP, leaned toward the side of the EU executive: "The commission is the guardian of the EU treaties. If it finds that France broke the law, it should proceed accordingly," his spokeswoman told this website.

The head of the Liberal group, Guy Verhofstadt, said in a statement: "Europe is finally proving its worth by not ignoring xenophobic, discriminatory, and nationalist policies perpetrated by member states. We welcome commissioner Reding's action announced today to bring fast-track infringement proceedings against France."

Socialist leader Martin Schulz also welcomed the Reding speech, but said the reaction came "too late for hundreds of Roma people" already deported by the French government.

Human rights groups have rallied behind the commission.

Amnesty International, which has behind the scenes been trying to push the commission to take action, was flabbergasted by the force of the response. "This has never happened before. I mean, there were 10,000 Roma deported [by various member states] last year and the commission didn't say anything," Nele Meyer, the group's Roma expert, told this website.

"We are absolutely surprised and delighted that Reding took such a strong line."

"Ms Reding's forceful statement comes not a moment too soon," Benjamin Ward from Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "The French government needs to heed the calls from Brussels and halt this abusive policy."

The European Network Against Racism urged the commission to take legal action not only against France "but also against all other member states putting in place similar policies infringing minority rights."

Burqa ban

The French parliament on Tuesday also pressed ahead with another controversial policy - the total ban of burqas and other full-body robes worn by Muslim women in public, even by visitors who pass through France.

Offenders face a maximum fine of €150 and could be asked to attend courses on what the government calls "republican values." Individuals who encourage others to ignore the ban would face tougher penalties: up to one year in prison and a maximum fine of €30,000.

The vote in the Senate was passed primarily by Mr Sarkozy's party, with most opposition lawmakers abstaining. It forbids people from concealing their faces in public, without mentioning Islam, and includes exceptions for some professions, such as riot police and surgeons

The law should come into force after six months, pending approval from the country's constitutional council, which has rejected several bills in past years.

The story was amended at 11.00 am Brussels time to include the reaction by Mr Lellouche.

Investigation

How to get around the EU posted workers directive

Some EU careworkers in Belgium receive around €400 a month - despite their carers paying €2,500 a month and paying for flights and accommodation. The answer lies in how firms can skirt the safeguards in the EU's posted workers directive.

Feature

Resetting the gender balance through football

Many sports, like football, have been so heavily male-dominated at every level that women and girls have battled against poor odds to be treated as equals in the game. FIFA aims to change that.

EU takes step closer to 'posted workers' deal

Negotiators from the member states, EU Parliament and Commission reached a 'common understanding' to guarantee equal pay for equal work in the EU. They hope to reach a final agreement in June.

Opinion

EU needs comprehensive 'sexuality education'

The subject is mandatory by law in some form in nearly all EU countries - but it is mostly reproduction- and biology-centred, covering topics such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections.

News in Brief

  1. Libyan PM rejects EU migrant camps idea
  2. Italy's Salvini to sue critical anti-mafia writer
  3. EU countries send aircraft to Sweden to help with wildfires
  4. British ex-commissioner's jobs called into question
  5. May to tell EU to drop Irish border 'backstop' idea
  6. Trump threatens EU over Google fine
  7. Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Catalan separatists
  8. EU readies counter-measures on possible US car tariffs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us