The EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Viviane Reding [official profile] on Tuesday threatened legal action [press release] against France for its deportation of Roma [JURIST news archive], calling the initiative "a disgrace." Reding's statement, which came one day after French media leaked [Le Canard Social report, in French] an interior ministry circular document directing a priority of clearing Roma from illegal camps, criticizes France's discrimination against the Roma and insists that the systematic deportation of the ethnic group is "in violation of EU law." Reding stressed that the European Commission (EC) [official website] has been following the situation in France very closely. Reding said she was "appalled" by the contradicting statements made by French ministers Eric Besson and Pierre Lellouche, who previously assured [French Embassy report] the EC that specific ethnic groups had not been targeted:
I can only express my deepest regrets that the political assurances given by two French ministers officially mandated to discuss this matter with the European Commission are now openly contradicted by an administrative circular issued by the same government. Let me be very clear: Discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or race has no place in Europe. It is incompatible with the values on which the European Union is founded. National authorities who discriminate ethnic groups in the application of EU law are also violating the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which all Member States, including France, have signed up to.In response to Reding's statements, French Foreign Ministry [official website] spokesperson Bernard Valero expressed [AP report] his "astonishment" at the accusations. Reding says that the next step for the European Commission will be legal sanctions against France, including infringement proceedings for a discriminatory application of the Free Movement Directive [text, PDF]. Formal legal proceedings are expected in the coming weeks.
France has defended its handling of the Roma [Telegraph report], saying only few cases result in forced deportation and that France was helping those displaced reintegrate into their countries of origin. In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) [official website] concluded its 77th session by expressing concern [JURIST report] with the discrimination faced by Roma migrants in numerous European countries, focusing on France's recent expulsion policy. Also in August, the EU Parliamentary Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats accused France of violating EU law [JURIST report] with its expulsion policy. In July, French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French] ordered measures against illegal Roma communities in France and announced legislation [JURIST report] that would make deportation easier. At the time, the French government aimed to dismantle half of illegal Roma camps within three months and to immediately deport all those found to have broken the law.