'All a Misunderstanding' Germany Denies Plans to Clear Roma Settlements

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday that Chancellor Merkel told him Germany was preparing to clear Roma camps in the coming weeks. The denial from Berlin was unmistakable. The remarks come after a tense European Union summit in Brussels that saw many leaders fall out with Sarkozy over France's treatment of the Roma minority.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the European Union summit in Brussels.
REUTERS

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the European Union summit in Brussels.


The German government issued a swift denial on Thursday night to claims made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that Chancellor Angela Merkel had said Germany was preparing to dismantle Roma camps.

"Madame Merkel indicated to me her desire to proceed with the evacuation of camps in the coming weeks," Sarkozy told reporters at a press conference after a tense European Union summit meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

But Merkel's spokesman denied the statement. "Chancellor Merkel spoke neither during the (EU summit) nor during talks with French President Sarkozy on the sidelines of the (summit) about supposed Roma encampments in Germany, not to mention their clearance," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

EU diplomats also denied Sarkozy's statement that the clearing of Roma camps is being planned in Germany, saying the French president had "totally invented" the comments, according to German news agency DPA.

A Misunderstanding?

On Friday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told public radio station Deutschlandfunk that Sarkozy had likely misunderstood the chancellor. "The chancellor has … informed me about what was said in her talks," Westerwelle said. "There was no such announcement by the chancellor. It would run contrary to the German constitution. I suspect this was all a misunderstanding."

The German government has been highly critical of the tone of remarks made by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding on Tuesday, who related the current deportations taking place in France to World War II. Westerwelle said it was the job of the European Commission to ensure that member states adhere to European laws, but that Reding's indirect comparison to the Nazi deportations during the war was unacceptable.

Merkel also criticized Reding this week. "I have made clear that I didn't find the tone or the choice of words by the Commission to be appropriate," Merkel said. "I do not believe that Europe, after World War II, is going to witness such a situation again." Reding issued an apology to Paris on Wednesday.

German is, in fact, also in the process of deporting Roma back to their home countries, primarily to Kosovo. Berlin recently signed a treaty with the country establishing procedures for the orderly return of 12,000 members of the Roma, Ashkali and Kosovar-Egyptian minorities who do not have valid residence permits in Germany. Many Kosovo residents fled to Germany during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Germany now considers Kosovo to be safe, meaning that the refugees can be deported.

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