EU keeping close watch on French Roma expulsions
(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission is keeping a close eye on a new French purge on Roma camps to ensure expulsions are not arbitrary and discriminatory, a spokeswoman said on Friday.
French authorities on Thursday dismantled two makeshift camps housing 200 people near Lille, and flew 240 Roma gypsies from Lyon to Romania in the biggest repatriation of its kind since Francois Hollande succeeded Nicolas Sarkozy as president in May.
The office of European Union justice commissioner Viviane Reding -- who clashed with Sarkozy during similar deportations two years ago -- is in contact with French authorities, Mina Andreeva told AFP.
Today again Reding's staff "are analysing the situation to make sure that European rules are respected," Andreeva said.
An EU source said the scrutiny would mean "a stiff test" for France.
Reding angered Sarkozy by comparing the earlier rounding up to World War II-era deportations.
Reding and the Commission also threatened to take France to court for discrimination against EU citizens -- the Roma are mainly Romanian and Bulgarian nationals, often encouraged to return to the lands of their birth with public funds.
France changed its domestic law to meet Reding's concerns, but expulsions continued when based on a judicial decision for instance.
Roma rights groups had hoped for a change of policy under Hollande's Socialists but new Interior Minister Manuel Valls has promised to take a "firm" line on the issue, insisting that "unsanitary" camps will continue to be dismantled.
About 15,000 Roma are believed to live in improvised housing encampments on the edges of major cities in France, including up to 4,000 in the Paris area.
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