BRUSSELS, Belgium — France’s deportations of Gypsies are “a disgrace” and probably break EU law, the European Union’s executive body declared Tuesday in a stinging rebuke that set up a showdown with French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government.
In recent weeks, French authorities have dismantled more than 100 illegal camps and deported more than 1,000 Gypsies, also known as Roma, mainly back to Romania, in a crackdown that has drawn international condemnation.
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said she was appalled by the expulsions, “which gave that impression that people are being removed from a member state of the European Union just because they belong to an ethnic minority.”
This “is a situation that I had thought that Europe would not have to witness again after the second World War,” she told a news conference, adding “the commission will have no choice but to initiate infringement procedures against France.”
France could ultimately be slapped with a fine by the European Court of Justice if its expulsions are found to have breached EU law.
The crackdown continued Tuesday, as a chartered Airbus took off from the southern city of Marseille for Bucharest with 69 Roma on board, police officials said.
Like others repatriated by France, they received a stipend of up to C300 ($385) per person for resettlement.
At Bucharest’s Baneasa Airport, Argentina Rosca, 30, seven months pregnant with her sixth child, lugged a huge bag as she exited the airport.
“It’s good to be back because my children are here,” she said.
Alexandru Musa, 37, had been in Marseille for three months working in construction, earning C1,000 a month under the table.
Musa added that he has plans to return to France.
“I earned good money and I was happy there,” he said.
In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero expressed “astonishment — that’s the least you can say” at the announcement by the European Commission.
“We don’t think, with this type of statement, that we can improve the situation of the Roma, who are at the heart of our concerns and our action,” Valero told reporters.
“It’s not time for polemics. … It’s time for work in favour of the Roma population.”
Sarkozy’s office refused to comment on Reding’s statement.