EU legal action against France over Roma is watered down Eds

EU legal action against France over Roma is watered down Eds

The European Commission took the unprecedented step Wednesday of taking legal action against France over its expulsion of Roma migrants, but took pains to soften the blow by stressing that procedures would only start at a later stage, dpa reported.

The European Union's executive had been engaged in a furious row with Paris since its justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, had earlier this month likened France's treatment of Roma, or Gypsies, to Nazi-era deportations of Jews and Gypsies.

But on Wednesday, the commission decided to take on France on only one of the two issues that Reding had singled out as problematic, related to the procedural rights EU citizens enjoy when expelled by an EU state that is not their own.

   "The commission considers that France has not yet transposed the directive on free movement into national legislation that makes these rights fully effective and transparent," commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde told reporters.

   But the official said France won a delay in the procedure, as a "letter of formal notice," representing the first stage in the EU infringement mechanism, would only be sent after October 15.

   France would escape legal proceedings altogether were it to manage to give a clear outline of plans to amend its national legislation in line with EU demands before that deadline, Ahrenkilde indicated.

In a further sop to French sensitivities, the spokeswoman said other EU capitals might be targeted in October alongside Paris over the implementation of the free movement directive.

"The commission is analysing the situation of all other EU member states ... consequently, it will send a letter of formal notice in similar cases" to France, Ahrenkilde said.

France escaped all censure on the second issue of ethnic discrimination, which Reding raised after a leaked government memo showed that French police had been ordered to close at least 300 camps of illegal migrants within three months, "with priority on the Roma."

Reacting to the criticism, France has amended the offending "circulaire" to strike out any references to the Roma. European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said this, along with other "assurances" given by the French, had been enough to stave off a separate legal proceedings.

In a statement, the commission indicated it had accepted a pledge by France to "fully ensure an effective and non-discriminatory application of EU law" and added it had urged Paris in writing to explain how it intended to follow suit on its "political assurances."

   France has faced international criticism since late July, when its authorities began dismantling illegal Gypsy camps and paying hundreds of Roma living there to return to fellow EU-members Romania and Bulgaria, from where most Gypsies originate from.

   EU laws allow for the expulsion of citizens from another EU state if they have no means to support themselves after a three-month stay or if they seriously threaten public order.

But they forbid any kind of ethnic discrimination, and state that each case must be assessed individually, preventing mass expulsions. dpa alv bve Author: Alvise Armellini

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