EU forced to apologise as Sarkozy goes on the attack over Nazi 'insult'

French President denies blazing row with Barroso but threat of legal action over Roma crackdown remains

After a blazing row with the European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday insisted that France's crackdown on Roma gypsies from eastern Europe was a "duty" and would continue.

At an EU summit in Brussels, the French president demanded, and received, an apology from the European justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, who earlier this week had compared France's anti-Roma campaign to Nazi persecutions during the Second World War. Still apparently shaking with rage at a press conference, Mr Sarkozy said that all leaders at a one-day EU summit in Brussels had agreed that her comments were "an insult, a humiliation, an outrage".

The European Commission promised to bring forward new ideas on how to solve the problem of the estimated 12 million desperately poor Roma gypsies in eastern Europe. But Brussels refused to abandon its threat of possible legal action against France for allegedly targeting Roma migrants en masse.

President Sarkozy denied that there had been what was described by the Bulgarian prime minister as a "very violent" verbal exchange with Mr Barroso. Mr Sarkosy said: "If anyone kept their calm and avoided excessive remarks, it was me." Other summit sources confirmed that there had been a blazing row between the two men at the leaders' lunch after Mr Sarkozy accused the Commission of "wounding" France.

At his post-summit press conference, Mr Sarkozy spoke with exaggerated calm, jabbing his finger and appearing to choke back his emotions. He said that France not only had a "right, but also a duty" to defend its "laws and Republican values" by dismantling "shanty-towns on the edge of our cities" where "thousands of people, including children, live in unspeakable conditions of squalor". He denied that there was any French policy to target the Roma as an ethnic group, despite calling in a speech in July for a renewed drive to dismantle their camps.

The Roma dispute has been calamitous for France's reputation abroad. The crackdown has been criticised by Brussels, the Vatican, the United States, the United Nations and much of the French and foreign press.

The policy remains popular, however, with a majority of French voters. President Sarkozy seems to have decided that to back down would be calamitous. A confrontation with Brussels might, on the other hand, be a useful domestic diversion from his many other problems.

Summit sources confirmed that there was a general agreement that the justice commissioner, Ms Reding, had gone over the top in implicitly comparing the anti-Roma campaign with the Holocaust. By doing so, they said, she had allowed President Sarkozy to appear as the wounded party and claim the moral high ground.

But they said that Mr Sarkozy had invited the Commission's wrath by making attacks on the Roma a piece of domestic political theatre to please right-wing voters.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, appeared to give less than wholehearted backing to the French position. "You should, of course, have the right to remove people from your country if they are there illegally," he said after the summit. "But it should never be done on the basis of an ethnic group."

The rights and wrongs of the dispute are confused – deliberately so, it seems, in the case of the French government. But the European Commission, and EU member states, share the blame for failing to clarify the status of Roma migrants to western Europe, or enforce the spending of over €9m in aid for impoverished gypsy communities given to the Romanian government.

The French drive to expel the Roma – or pay them subsidies to go home – did not begin with President Sarkozy's speech in July. Over 1,000 Roma have been removed from France, one way or another, in the last month. But this is roughly in line with the average number of monthly Roma repatriations from France since the middle of last year.

The European Commission took little interest in these removals (or those carried out by Italy or Germany) until Mr Sarkozy's speech in Grenoble on 30 July. The French president then announced a new campaign on crime and insecurity and went out of his way to link foreigners and immigrants with criminal activity.

Officials in the Elysée Palace – including President Sarkozy in private conversations – have suggested that this is part of a political strategy to please right-wing voters and block a possible resurgence of the far-right National Front when its elderly president, Jean-Marie Le Pen, gives way to his daughter, Marine, next year.

For the last six weeks, French ministers have been beaming out contradictory messages. The interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, has been the gleeful, domestic cheerleader for the anti-Roma crackdown. The immigration and Europe ministers have been assuring Brussels and others that nothing new was happening and that the Roma were not being targeted as a group.

Under EU rules on free movement of European citizens, and the transitional terms for Romanian and Bulgarian membership, the Roma have a right to stay in France without a job for three months. They can only be expelled if they exceed that limit or if they are proved to be a threat to public order.

Last weekend, a leak to the French press proved what had long been evident in any case. A confidential circular sent from the interior ministry to police chiefs and senior officials on 4 August ordered police to target Roma camps as a "priority".

France has changed the wording of the circular to remove the word "Roma". But the damage was done. Ms Reding, furious that she had been misled, said on Tuesday that the policy was "shameful" and that Brussels would probably start a legal action within weeks.

President Sarkozy, in a private conversation with French senators, suggested on Wednesday that if Ms Reding was so keen on Roma, her home country, Luxembourg, (population: 500,000) "might like to welcome one or two of them". This quip brought an angry rebuke yesterday from the Luxembourg government, which is just as sensitive to jokes about size as President Sarkozy himself.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape