France not yet in the clear over Roma: EU's Reding

BRUSSELS Wed Oct 20, 2010 10:26am EDT

A Roma family stand in front a caravan near Paris, September 16, 2010. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

A Roma family stand in front a caravan near Paris, September 16, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - France could still be sued over its expulsion of Roma migrants even though the European Union dropped the threat of immediate legal action this week, the EU's justice chief said Wednesday.

The European Commission had threatened to take France to court over its removal of 8,000 migrants to Romania and Bulgaria, a policy that human rights groups, the Roman Catholic Church and the United Nations have all roundly criticized.

The commission decided Tuesday that France had met its demands to better align its immigration laws with EU rules, staving off the threat of immediate action. But Paris has yet to address concerns that it breached anti-discrimination laws.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said those concerns were being analyzed by her lawyers and held out the possibility of legal action being taken in the weeks to come if France was found to be in violation of EU law.

"There are still many questions and my lawyers tell me they will have finished their analysis in four weeks," Reding told reporters in Strasbourg, France.

"This is not just a question of feeling ... we have to have serious legal evidence before going to infringement procedure," she said, emphasizing that the commission would tread carefully before accusing France of discriminating against Roma, Europe's largest ethnic minority.

The dispute over Roma migrants has tested relations between France and the commission, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy accusing Reding of going too far in her criticism.

During the summer, Reding evoked memories of World War Two in an angry denunciation of France's actions, but later backed away from that view, focusing her criticism on France's failure to align its legislation rather than on discrimination.

EU law allows states to expel citizens of another member state if they pose a risk to public safety or burden the welfare system. But any such expulsions must be proportionate and avoid targeting a particular ethnic group.

All member states are obligated to transpose EU laws into national legislation.

France says the expulsions were necessary to ensure public order, but the policy has highlighted Europe's difficulty in addressing the social exclusion of the Roma, who often face greater prejudice than any other ethnic minority.

More than 10 million Roma live in Europe, many on the fringes of large cities, where they struggle to access public services or find jobs and have been socially marginalized.

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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