Sarkozy defies E.U. criticism on Gypsy expulsions
BRUSSELS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy upended a European Union summit to defend his nation's honor Thursday, vowing to keep clearing illegal immigrant camps despite accusations that the France's policy is racist and unfairly targets Roma, or Gypsies.
The summit was supposed to be a forum for crafting a unifying European foreign policy, but it turned into a drama of discord - with the outspoken Sarkozy usurping the podium to articulate his policies and lash out at his critics.
Sarkozy said comments this week by E.U. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding that linked the expulsions to the mass deportations of World War II were "disgusting."
"All heads of state and government said it was profoundly shocking that one would speak in this way, with historical references that were deeply hurtful to the entirety of our compatriots," Sarkozy said.
"It is an insult, an injury, a humiliation and an outrage," Sarkozy said, the kind of comment rarely directed toward any of the E.U.'s top officials.
The wartime allusion stung many in France and other members of a bloc designed to overcome and prevent the kind of hostilities that divided Europe in the past. France deported about 76,000 Jews from France to Nazi concentration camps and interned thousands of Roma in camps in France during the war.
Sarkozy insisted that the current expulsions are a matter of security and that France doesn't have to take lessons from anyone, as long as it respects human rights. He described more than 100 Roma camps dismantled in France in recent weeks as havens of crime and undignified living conditions.
"We will continue to dismantle the illegal camps, whoever is there," Sarkozy said. "Europe cannot close its eyes to illegal camps."
Participants at the summit lunch said emotions flared between Sarkozy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso over the expulsions. Barroso did not want to comment on his exchange with Sarkozy, brushing off "useless rhetoric or unnecessary controversies."
"Let's put this behind us, let's work now on substance," he said.
Reding's office has said that she regrets the wartime comparison but stands by her threat to take France to court for targeting an ethnic group in the expulsions.
The expulsions of more than 1,000 Roma from France in recent weeks, mainly to Romania, have also highlighted persistent divisions between richer, older E.U. members and poorer, newer ones.
Romanian President Traian Basescu accused E.U. leaders of "hypocrisy" over the Roma expulsions to his country.
and warned that those expelled from France may quickly return.
"If we are not honestly recognizing this reality, we will not find solutions," he told reporters in Bucharest.
While Thursday's tensions centered on the Roma, the E.U. leaders talked little about them, a group that is among the continent's poorest, most mistreated minorities.
- Associated Press