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Latest update : 2010-09-16

A bitter rift between the EU Commission and France over the deportations of Roma is threatening to overshadow a summit of European leaders Thursday, after the French presidency rejected a comparison with World War II-era mass expulsions.

AP - A summit of European Union leaders Thursday is supposed to help the continent build a more unified foreign policy. Instead it is being overshadowed by a bitter rift over Gypsy expulsions from France to poorer parts of Europe.

In an emotional statement Tuesday, European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding called France’s handling of the deportations a « disgrace » that could breach EU law and compared them to World War II-era mass expulsions.

Harsh words from Viviane Reding

French government spokesman Luc Chatel hit back, saying, « It is unacceptable to compare the situation today with a tragic period in our history. »

« I fear that such positions ... will only widen the gap between the French people and the European institutions, » he said.

The war of words will make for an uneasy trip to Brussels for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a dominant and outspoken figure at EU leaders’ meetings and on the global stage.

The expulsions of Gypsies, also known as Roma, from France, primarily to Romania, have highlighted persistent divisions between richer, older EU members and poorer, newer ones _ and revived memories of historic hostilities in Europe that the bloc was meant to overcome.

The Elysee Palace says the issue of the Roma isn’t on the agenda for the summit and a senior official said that « as far as we know, nobody intends to raise it. »

« There is a desire to treat the underlying problems rather than getting caught up in empty controversies, » the official said on customary condition of anonymity.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said France and the EU should use the summit as « a moment for dialogue, » raising hopes he would bring up the issue on the sidelines of the one-day summit.

Barroso said he stood steadfastly behind Reding’s comments, saying her surprisingly blunt criticism of Paris was made « with my personal backing. » But he added that « expressions used in the heat of the moment may have given rise to misunderstandings. »
Reding « did not want to establish any parallels between what happened in World War II and the present, » he said.

EU President Herman van Rompuy called Thursday’s summit to discuss how the bloc communicates and what its strategic goals are with key countries such as the United States and China. Over lunch, Van Rompuy also will update the leaders on progress by a task force on economic governance.

Van Rompuy says the 27-nation bloc, which accounts for 22 percent of the world’s economy, is « punching below its weight » and wants leaders to discuss how they can build a common foreign policy message and « deliver it effectively. »

The EU has key summits in coming weeks with Asian nations including growing economic powerhouses China and India.
The bloc suffered a setback Wednesday when the United Nations voted down its bid to have Van Rompuy and foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton speak on the EU’s behalf, starting at the 65th General Assembly session opening next week.

Ashton played down the vote, calling it a « procedural issue, » but it underscored the trouble Europe has in getting out a unified message to the rest of the world.

Foreign ministers at the summit are expected to consider a proposal for EU members to waive World Trade Organization tariffs on Pakistan textiles as a way of helping the country recover from devastating floods. Such a move could be worth between ¤230-¤300 million ($290-$380 million) a year for Pakistan.

Extremely heavy monsoon rains unleashed floods in northwest Pakistan at the end of July and the disaster spread south, killing more than 1,700 people and affecting another 17 million.

The summit could also approve a multibillion dollar free trade deal between the EU and South Korea. The pact has been held up by Italy, which fears it could hurt its auto industry.

Date created : 2010-09-16


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