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Why Germany rebuffed France over its Gypsy crackdown

After launching a controversial Gypsy crackdown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Germany was quietly planning to follow suit. Germany denies it has any such plans.

By Staff writer / September 17, 2010

Roma Gypsies, arrive at Marseille airport, southern France, before being expelled from France, Sept. 14.

Claude Paris/AP

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Paris

The latest saga in the French deportation of Roma Gypsies is a bitter kerfuffle between Paris and Berlin.

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President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters that German Chancellor Angela Merkel confided that her country would soon follow the French example and disband Gypsy camps as well. But German officials today categorically denied that Ms. Merkel had even discussed Gypsy issues with Mr. Sarkozy in public or private.

The two leaders were at an European Union (EU) summit yesterday in Brussels on Europe’s role in the world that devolved into fiery confrontations between Sarkozy and others on Gypsy treatment.

The meeting came a day after the chief of the EU court of justice said France may face charges of unlawful deportations, and after revelations that French officials misled the EU on the nature of the Gypsy roundups that began in July.

Sarkozy, vociferously defending a policy that has earned the French government censure at home and in Europe, made the unguarded comment that after Germany closes the [Gypsy] camps, “We’ll see how calm German politics will become then.”

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said today the French policy on Gypsies would “run counter to the German constitution” and said there must have been a “misunderstanding” between the leaders of the two most prominent European nations.

The unusual diplomatic moment, in which the France leader would deign to speak for the German leader on so sensitive an issue, illustrates the degree of scrutiny that Sarkozy is facing over a Gypsy policy, which was originally intended to appeal to mainstream voters.

Why the Gypsy issue is so sensitive now

The Gypsy contretemps raises questions about population shifts inside a EU of 27 countries at a time of economic crisis – as well as using politics to tweak ongoing raw feelings over immigrants and outsiders in Europe in general.

Not only France, but also Italy and Denmark, among others, have quietly sent Gypsies from southern Europe back home. French police last year placed in custody nearly as many Romanian and Bulgarian Gypsies as it did this year.

What’s different in 2010, causing blowback for Sarkozy, is the high-profile politics involved. The French policy is widely seen as a crackdown on crime and foreigners – seen in Paris as a way to change the subject from other woes besetting the French president.

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