France still under Commission scrutiny on Roma

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France abided by a European Commission deadline at the last minute by submitting information on how it intends to align its national legislation with EU laws on the free movement of people just before midnight on 15-16 October. But the country remains under scrutiny to determine whether its summer crackdown on illegal Roma camps amounted to discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, the Commission said.

Justice and Fundamental Rights Commissioner Viviane Reding described as ''positive'' the fact that Paris had sent the information required by the Commission ''very late'' at night on Friday.

''I think this is a positive move: France has answered our ultimatum,'' Reding told French news agency AFP (see 'Background').

However, the Commission did not make any statements as to the substance of the information provided.

Commission spokesperson Olivier Bailly explained that the case with France had two dimensions. The first was the alignment of its legislation with EU law, on which Paris had until 15 October to make its intentions clear.

The second dimension, however, was whether the expulsion policy was targeted at the Roma minority, amounting to discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.

On this aspect, he said there was no deadline, meaning France is still being threatened with a legal procedure.

Ten days ago, another scandal erupted following the disclosure by French daily Le Monde of a gendarmerie database called Mens, which tracks "non-sedentary ethnic minorities".

The French state commission for data processing and liberties (Cnil) said it had investigated a complaint by four NGOs about the ''illegal'' use of ethnic files.

''There is no Mens file specifically identified,'' Cnil stated, even though it said ''the name Mens has been in common use in the gendarmerie services since 1992''.

Although Cnil states that there was no ''structured database gathering personal data relative to the Roma,'' it admits that ''some of the information registered'' by the gendarmerie reveal ''the ethnic origins of the persons controlled''.

Many Roma from Eastern Europe moved to the West following the EU's enlargement, creating tensions, particularly in Italy. An estimated 15,000 Roma from Romania and Bulgaria live in France. The French government is expelling large numbers of them in groups.

The Commission is challenging the legal grounds for the expulsions. France is insisting that its measures are not discriminatory and are intended to protect the security of its citizens and public order.

On 29 September the Commission decided to take France to task regarding its summer crackdown on illegal Roma camps, giving Paris until 15 October to prove that its policies comply with EU laws guaranteeing the free circulation of people.

A formal legal procedure would be started against France "unless draft transposition measures and a detailed transposition schedule are provided by 15 October 2010," the Commission said.

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