France has urged European leaders to force Romania to stem the flow of Roma gypsies leaving the country, suggesting that they could block Romania's entry to the Schengen border-free zone if the government in Bucharest fails to do so.
Raising the stakes as Romanian officials arrived in Paris for talks, President Nicolas Sarkozy's government defended its recent repatriation of hundreds of Roma people and said the Roma emigration from Romania had become a European problem.
The French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, has written to Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, asking him to take steps to ensure that €4bn in European Union funds given to Romania each year is used to settle the Roma. The Romanian government, for its part, has questioned whether the repatriations comply with European law. A spokesman for the European Commission said it would issue a report on the legality of the expulsions next week.
Since announcing plans last month to demolish hundreds of illegal Roma camps in a crackdown on crime, France's centre-right government has repatriated more than 600 gypsies, mostly to Romania.
Critics of Mr Sarkozy have denounced the move as a ploy to boost his flagging popularity before elections in 2012, and to divert attention from his unpopular plans to raise the retirement age and cut public spending.