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EU Starts Legal Case Against France Over Roma

Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The European Union threatened a lawsuit against France over the expulsion of gypsies, saying French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government probably breached EU rules on the free movement of citizens.

The European Commission started infringement proceedings over France’s expulsion this year of more than 1,000 Roma, as gypsies from Eastern Europe are known, back to Romania and Bulgaria, both of which joined the EU in 2007. The French move included the dismantling of gypsy camps.

“It’s a question of if there has been discrimination,” European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told French radio today. The commission, the 27-nation EU’s regulatory arm in Brussels, decided to send the French government a letter of formal notice, the first step in a process that could lead to a complaint at the European court.

France’s treatment of Roma, members of an ethnic minority who are EU citizens, rose to the top of the European political agenda in mid-September when Reding linked the policy to events during the Second World War and EU government heads debated the matter two days later at a Sept. 16 summit. The European Parliament, the Catholic Church and newspapers including Le Monde, the Financial Times and The New York Times have denounced France’s policy.

Ethnic Minority

EU law prohibits governments from targeting ethnic minorities. European legislation does allow governments to expel citizens from other EU countries after three months for reasons of public order or should the people in question have insufficient economic resources or pose a burden to the domestic health-care system.

The commission will delay sending its letter of formal notice to France until October, the time of the next package of EU infringement procedures.

France can avoid receiving the planned letter by properly enacting 2004 EU legislation on the free movement of citizens or by outlining steps to do so, commission spokesman Matthew Newman said by telephone.

Meanwhile, the commission is sending another letter seeking more information from France about assurances the government has given over the treatment of Roma.

The French government will provide “all the necessary information,” according to an e-mailed statement by the Foreign Ministry.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Stearns in Brussels at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at

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