The European Commission will hold a high-level meeting with the French government on 31 August at which it will seek answers about the country’s controversial programme to deport Roma.
Commission officials are currently investigating the programme to determine whether it is in line with EU law on free movement and non-discrimination. The programme, launched last week, has been strongly criticised as discriminatory by the Council of Europe, human-rights groups, and opposition politicians in France. Pope Benedict XVI has also called for France to rethink the policy.
France claims the programme is necessary to prevent immigrant-related crime. At least 800 people are believed to have been deported, and many Roma camps destroyed.
The meeting between the French government and the Commission will also discuss measures that should be taken by the EU to improve Roma integration, and an agreement this week between France and Romania, the country of origin for most Roma migrants to France, to improve its management of bilateral migratory flows.
François Fillon, France’s prime minister, suggested holding the meeting when he spoke on the phone yesterday (26 August) with José Manuel Barroso, the president of the Commission.
“The Commission welcomed very favourably this initiative on this important dossier,” a Commission spokesperson said.
Fillon said earlier this week that he would contact Barroso to call for greater EU efforts to ensure that Romania, and also Bulgaria, do more to integrate their Roma minorities. He initially indicated, however, that he would do this by letter.
The Commission spokesperson said that Fillon had insisted during the phone conversation that France’s deportation programme was in line with EU law. “The Commission has to do its own assessment of the situation,” the spokesperson said.
The meeting will be attended by Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, as well as possibly by Cecilia Malmström, the commissioner for home affairs, and by László Andor, the commissioner for social affairs. Its French participants are expected to include Brice Hortefeux, France’s interior minister, who has organised the deportation programme, and possibly Éric Besson, France’s immigration minister.
The Commission confirmed that Malmström has been invited by the French government to attend a meeting of immigration and interior ministers from several member states that will take place in Paris on 6 September. No commissioner was included on France’s original list of invitees to the meeting, which Roberto Maroni, Italy’s interior minister, has said will discuss Roma expulsions (a policy he favours). However, France has denied that Roma will be discussed directly.
The Commission’s assessment of France’s deportation programme will be completed in time for Reding to report the findings to European commissioners when they meet on 1 September.
A spokesperson for Reding said that the results of the assessment would not be made public, but that the Commission would take whatever action needed to enforce EU law.
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