BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union executive on Tuesday dropped threats of disciplinary action against France over the expulsions of Roma migrants after Paris agreed to amend its immigration laws.
The decision is likely to smooth relations between France and the European Commission that have been strained by EU criticism of the French campaign to expel 8,000 Roma migrants — also known as gypsies — to Romania and Bulgaria this year.
The Commission had accused France of failing to reflect EU rules on migrants in its own laws and had given Paris until October 15 to change the legislation or face possible court fines.
“France has responded positively,” EU justice chief Viviane Reding said in a statement. “The European Commission will now, for the time being, not pursue the infringement procedure against France.”
EU law allows states to expel citizens of another member state if they pose a risk to public safety or burden the welfare system, but such expulsions must be proportionate and avoid targeting a particular ethnic group.
The French government said last week a new immigration package would address the Commission’s criticism, but French authorities have defended the expulsions, saying they were necessary to ensure public order.
Human rights groups, the Catholic Church and the United Nations have said France’s policy was discriminatory against the Roma, who make up Europe’s largest ethnic minority.
French opposition politicians have accused President Nicolas Sarkozy of targeting the Roma to try to bolster his popularity with tough-on-crime rhetoric at a time of budget austerity.
Speaking at a news conference in the northern French seaside town of Deauville, Sarkozy said he was pleased with the Commission’s decision. “The Commission decided this for the simple reason that there was no discrimination and it ends a period of controversy that could have been avoided,” he said.
Reding had initially also accused France of discrimination, but later backed down, saying France’s main failure was to align its regulation poorly with the bloc’s rules.
On Tuesday, she reiterated the Commission’s plans to examine how EU member states use the bloc’s fund to help the more than 10 million Roma who live in Europe.
“We need to get to the root of the problem and encourage stronger national efforts ... in eradicating poverty,” she said.
The Roma face greater social exclusion than any other minority in the EU, particularly when it comes to getting jobs or having access to public services. Many live on the fringes of European cities, begging or doing odd jobs, and are often linked in the public perception with crime.
Reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Julien Toyer in Brussels and John Irish in Deauville; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Mark Heinrich