France has questioned the EU executive's sharp criticism of its decision to expel several Roma since July this year

A furious row between France and the European Union’s executive over French expulsions targeting Roma immigrants overshadowed an EU foreign policy summit on Thursday, officials said.

Documents leaked in the French press at the weekend appeared to show that France deliberately targeted Roma for expulsion as part of a wider crackdown on illegal migrants, and then tried to hide the fact from the EU’s executive, the European Commission.

“Of course, we were discussing (the issue) in the corridors before and after the first part of the meeting ... The atmosphere was serious: we do have problems, admittedly, but I would not say I saw lots of tension in the room,” said European Parliament head Jerzy Buzek after talks with EU leaders and foreign ministers. EU law allows members to expel citizens of other EU countries who threaten public order or do not have enough money to live on. But it specifically outlaws any policy or action based on ethnic identity.

The French leaks sparked an explosive war of words between Brussels and Paris. At the height of the row, Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding indirectly compared the situation to events during World War II and said she was convinced the French move broke EU law.

Both comments provoked outrage in France, where officials said that it was the role of the French government, not the commission, to interpret EU law.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also criticized Reding’s implied comparison with the war, during which France’s Vichy regime deported thousands of Roma to Nazi death camps. On Wednesday, Reding apologized for the specific comment, but stuck by her general criticism.

But the French insistence that Paris, not Brussels, interpret EU law also drew fire from other EU states. Under EU rules, it is the commission which is tasked with enforcing EU rules.

“It looks like the French think there’s one rule for them and one for everybody else,” one diplomat who asked not to be identified told the German Press Agency.

EU officials at the meeting said that the Roma issue was likely to be raised over the summit lunch, either by French President Nicolas Sarkozy or by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose government has implemented similar Roma crackdowns in the past.

Formally, the summit was intended to discuss the EU’s relationship with major foreign powers such as China, India and the United States.

It was not expected to propose any major initiatives, but rather to sketch out the main lines for future policies.

“The EU is punching below its weight ... We simply do not do enough strategic thinking,” the chairman of the meeting, HermanVan Rompuy, said in his opening remarks.

In parallel to the main meeting, EU foreign ministers approved for signature a free trade deal with South Korea after Italy dropped a veto in return for a six—month delay in the treaty’s implementation.

They were also set to debate reducing trade tariffs on imports from Pakistan to help it recover from this summer’s devastating floods.

Diplomats said that bothBritish Prime Minister David Cameron and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, were pushing for generous action, but that some other member states were resisting out of fears for their own domestic producers.

dpa bn alv ncs Author:BenNimmo 161038 GMT Sep 10

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