By Tim Montgomerie
Over recent weeks the embattled French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has begun a programme of deporting Gypsies. He has claimed claimed that the illegal settlements are breeding
grounds for criminality, including prostitution and common theft. The programme has so far involved riot police closing 100 illegal camps and remove approximately one thousand people. It is popular with French voters.
The EU's Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding (dressed in a fiery red jacket, noted the BBC) pronounced yesterday that the deportations probably breached EU anti-discrimination laws because a memo from the French Ministry of the Interior specifically mentioned "Roma" camps when it instructed regional governors to clear approximately three hundred illegal camps. She said that the Commission would probably take legal action against France within weeks. If the EU courts are as slow as they were at forcing France to lift its illegal ban on British 'Rosbif', a decade ago, France will be empty of Roma, however, before the court rules.
Commissioner Reding invoked the Nazi-era crimes against the Jews in her strident condemnation of Sarkozy. "This is a situation I would have thought Europe would not have to witness again," she said. The Nazis regarded the Roma as "undesirables" and deported many to concentration camps where they perished.
The French Minister for Europe rejected Ms Reding's attack. "France is a big sovereign country," Pierre Lellouche said, "we're not at school."
Sarkozy was the cover feature in last week's Economist. The weekly magazine charted how he had become a much diminished figure since he was first elected:
"When Nicolas Sarkozy first burst into the French political consciousness he was unlike any other recent leader the country had known. He dared to tell the French what they did not care to hear: that they should work more, take more risks, promote more ethnic minorities, be nicer to America. He was not afraid to roll up his sleeves, confront his opponents and court unpopularity. He balanced firmness on immigration from abroad with fairness towards ethnic minorities at home. Never a fully fledged liberal, he nonetheless had enough liberal reflexes to understand that the French could preserve the best of their way of life only through reform…"
"What a shrunken version of that politician now occupies the presidency. Little more than three years into his five-year term, Mr Sarkozy seems to be a shadow of the reformer he once was on economic affairs and a caricature of the tough-cop leader on social matters. He bashes capitalism with one hand and now Roma (gypsies) with the other. His popularity has collapsed, the opposition Socialists are breathing down his neck and a series of mini-scandals has damaged his standing. Even his own camp has begun to doubt that he still has what it takes to carry them to victory again in 2012."