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Europe warns France on treatment of Gypsies

(This article is part of TIMES EXPRESS. It is a condensed version of a story that will appear in tomorrow's New York Times.)

c.2010 New York Times News Service@

BRUSSELS — After an acrimonious dispute over its expulsions of the Roma, France was told Wednesday that it would face legal proceedings for failing to meet minimum European Union safeguards to protect the rights of the bloc's citizens.

The decision followed a fierce clash between the European Commission, the bloc's executive body, and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France that overshadowed a meeting of European Union leaders this month.

Wednesday's action is less than the European commissioner for justice, Viviane Reding, promised a little more than two weeks ago, when officials also considered taking France to court over the more serious charge of discrimination. But she did single out the government in Paris for legal action.


Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society Institute in Brussels, said: "They are on more solid ground doing it this way, but it doesn't send a signal about discrimination. I applaud it if it is effective, but they need to follow through on rooting out discrimination."

The dispute over the Roma, also known as Gypsies, has brought relations between the French government and the European Commission to a low point. One of the jobs of the bloc's executive body is to be the guardian of European Union law.

The decision Wednesday trod a narrow line between worsening the rift with Paris and backing down. The legal case accuses France of failing to incorporate minimum European Union standards protecting ethnic groups into national legislation, which it agreed to do under a 2004 law. While other countries are also thought to be in a similar situation, France was singled out Wednesday with a formal letter, the first step in legal action.

The European Commission said in a statement that it would consider action against other nations.

In her initial statement this month, Reding said she was convinced that the commission would also have "no choice" but to initiate infringement action against France "for a discriminatory application" of European law.

But Wednesday the commission decided against immediately beginning a discrimination case, sending Paris a series of questions instead.

France has sent thousands of Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria this year, destroying illegal camps where they were living on the outskirts of French cities.

The rift between Paris and Brussels emerged when Reding discovered that assurances from French ministers about their policies on the Roma were contradicted by an official document that was leaked.


That document — which has since been withdrawn — showed that the Roma had been specifically singled out by the French government.

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