Europe

Viviane Reding's BBC interview on Roma deportation

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Media captionEU Commissioner Reding said her patience was wearing thin

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has called on the European Commission to take legal action against France over its deportations of Roma (Gypsies), calling Paris's actions a "disgrace".

Here the BBC's Oana Lungescu talks to the commissioner about the controversial issue.

It is rare to hear an EU commissioner speak like that about a big member-state. What has made you so angry?

Because it is not about a minor question. It is not one sentence in a law which is not appropriate or so on and so forth.

Here we touch upon the fundamental values on which Europe has been built since World War II: respect for the individual and non-discrimination against racial, ethnic or national groups.

So those are the treaties, that is the charter of fundamental rights, those are our laws. And if we start to put those in question, then we put in question the whole basis on which this Europe has been constructed since World War II.

So are you effectively accusing France of discriminating against Roma as an ethnic group despite all the assurances you got from French ministers that they are dealing with this on a case-by-case basis?

Image caption France has dismantled many illegal Roma camps in recent weeks

I have been receiving the French government in Brussels and I have been listening to the French ministers who have explained to me that they were not discriminating against an ethnic group.

Now I have no reasons not to believe a minister who speaks in the name of his government when he comes to see me, but then if I see, some days later, an official document which has been sent out in order to give instructions to the whole administration of France, saying just the contrary, well, I do have my doubts on the way we should continue to work together in the future.

Because if I cannot trust governments any more then it is very difficult for me to build this Europe of common trusts, of common rules and of accepting and implementing those rules. And we see the commission as guardian of the treaties.

Do you think the French government has been lying to you?

I think that a part of the French government was saying something else than another part of the French government was doing.

So they were trying to hide the truth?

I suppose so because I can only notify [sic] this contradiction. You know that last week in the European Parliament I had defended the publicly expressed view of the French government because I do not distrust a minister from the start on, but when I see that there has been cheating, I say "no".

Now, that's the end of it. Let's make things clear. There can be no dismantling of the fundamental values on which our societies are built.

And it is not me who decrees these fundamental values. Those have been accepted with the signature of the governments, and this not lately - this since decades, that is the fundamental basis of our living together. If that is put into pieces then there is no way of living together and trusting each other in the future.

You want the European Commission to take legal measures against France. What exactly could they amount to?

There are two questions which are under scrutiny.

The first one is that part of the directive of free movement - that is the directive of 2004 - has not yet been introduced into French law, and that is exactly the part of the directive which gives some rights to the individuals, who are caught because they are illegal or because they have committed a crime.

And they can be caught and they can be expelled but the guarantees for the citizens have not been taken over into French law.

And the second is the discriminatory way of applying this free movement directive. You cannot stigmatise an ethnic group. You can stigmatise an individual who has misbehaved.

Do you want France to be fined?

Well that is not for me to decide. I just see that things are going wrong and I hand the dossier over to the European court.

France says it wants to dismantle all the illegal Roma camps by the end of September. It has already deported more than 1,000 people. Are you now calling on France to stop those discriminations?

Well, France is responsible for security on its own territory. It has to see what it is doing since decades.

Also, with these illegal camps where there are not only Roma of non-French nationality, there are many French Roma living in these camps.

What kind of policy are we doing in order to integrate those people? I think that should be the question we are handling and where we should work together in order to have a Europe which is built on the elimination of poverty, on bringing those kids to school, on having such rules applied so that criminality gets out of those camps.

Why not concentrate on this and why for purely populist reasons and party political reasons, maybe, stigmatise a whole group of citizens just because it is popular to do that?

France isn't the only country that has been expelling Roma. What is your message to others, like Italy, Germany, Sweden?

My message is very simple. The country that is going against European values, European treaty and European law will be in front of the commission and will have to answer questions.

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