EU to launch legal action against France over Roma
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has told FRANCE 24 that Brussels will launch legal proceedings against France for breaching EU rules on freedom of movement during the country’s much criticised crackdown on Roma communities.
The European Union will begin infringement proceedings against France over the expulsion of Roma (Gypsies), EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday.
"France is not enforcing European law on free movement as it should, so we are launching an infringement process against France," she said, adding that “if France changes its laws quickly, we will stop this procedure.”
The 2004 law outlines the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the EU member states.
France is among a number of countries accused of failing to translate EU rules on freedom of movement into national law.
Reding said France would be asked to provide proof to back its claims that its hard-line crackdown against Roma was legal.
Since July, France has triggered a flood of international outrage as illegal traveller camps were dismantled and more than 1,700 Roma were “repatriated”, mainly to Romania and Bulgaria.
Ten days ago Reding said she was “appalled” by France's actions, comparing them to World War II persecutions (for which she later apologised) and demanding swift legal action.
Legal action on discrimination a risky business
The EU had previously considered disciplinary action for discrimination, but this seems to have come off the agenda. Legal action in this regard would have carried huge risks for the European Commission.
In order to proceed, Reding would have needed an absolutely watertight case to persuade her colleagues to level a formal charge of discrimination (which is a violation of the European charter of fundamental rights).
Last week France argued that its actions were not discriminatory - despite a leaked government memo that mentioned Roma as the prime targets of plans to dismantle illegal camps.
The leaked memo, signed by Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux's chief of staff Michel Bart, outlined “specific objectives” for police forces.
It read: “Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be cleared within three months, Roma camps are a priority.”
France argues that most of the illegal camps that were targeted for dismantlement by police were inhabited by travellers holding French nationality, and not Romanian or Bulgarian Roma.
It was the publication of the leaked memo that prompted Reding to threaten France with legal action.
France responded to Reding's announcement saying it would cooperate with the inquiry, while welcoming Brussels' decision not to investigate it for discrimination.
"The Commission accepted France's assurances that the measures taken have neither the aim nor the effect of targeting a specific 'minority' and that French authorities apply EU law in a non-discriminatory fashion," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
"France will, of course, provide all necessary additional information, as it has already done up until now."