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'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. Zoom

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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Graphic: Roma in Europe Zoom

Graphic: Roma in Europe

Commissioner Viviane Reding's Criticism of France
The European Union's justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, massively criticized the French government over its policy of deporting Roma. Here are the key points of Reding's Sept. 14 speech:

"Over the past weeks, the European Commission has been following very closely the developments in France regarding the Roma. I personally have been appalled by a situation which gave the impression that people are being removed from a member state of the European Union just because they belong to a certain ethnic minority. This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War."

"I can only express my deepest regrets that the political assurances given by two French ministers officially mandated to discuss this matter with the European Commission are now openly contradicted by an administrative circular issued by the same government."

"This is not a minor offence in a situation of this importance. After 11 years of experience in the Commission, I would even go further: This is a disgrace."

Let me be very clear: Discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or race has no place in Europe. It is incompatible with the values on which the European Union is founded. National authorities who discriminate ethnic groups in the application of EU law are also violating the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which all member states, including France, have signed up to.

"I therefore find it deeply disturbing that a member state calls so gravely into question, by the actions of its administration, the common values and the law of our European Union."

"I am personally convinced that the Commission will have no choice but to initiate infringement action against France: infringement proceedings against France for a discriminatory application of the Free Movement Directive, and infringement proceedings against France for lack of transposition of the procedural and substantive guarantees under the Free Movement Directive."

"I will of course give the French authorities the right to submit comments on the new developments in the course of the next days. But I make it very clear my patience is wearing thin: Enough is enough."

"No member state can expect special treatment, especially not when fundamental values and European laws are at stake. This applies today to France. This applies equally to all other member states, big or small, which would be in a similar situation. You can count on me for that."

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