BRUSSELS — The European Union decided Wednesday to launch legal action against France over its expulsions of Gypsies, or Roma, to poorer EU nations but said it lacked proof that Paris acted in a discriminatory way.
The EU decision gives France more time to defend its expulsions of more than 1,000 illegal Roma immigrants, mostly to Romania, and its demolition of hundreds of Roma camps in recent weeks.
France's government cheered that part of the decision, and claimed victory in its standoff with the EU's head office over expelling of one of Europe's poorest minorities.
"The European Commission today has decided to open infringement procedures against France," EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said in an interview with The Associated Press. She said the procedures will focus on France's failure to apply EU rules of free movement of citizens across the 27-nation bloc. That could eventually lead to France being sent to court.
But the commission stopped short of ruling on whether France was being discriminatory. "On the discrimination aspect, we do not have the ... legal proof," Reding said.
The decision came two weeks after Reding linked the expulsions to the mass deportations of World War II. France deported thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps and interned thousands of French Gypsies during the war.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called her remarks "disgusting," setting up a high-profile clash with the European Union leadership.
The Commission decision Wednesday "was far from a snub, it was the opposite," French Immigration Minister Eric Besson told lawmakers in Paris. "The Commission took note that there was no discrimination."
"We should all be happy," he said. "France is emerging with its head high from its exchange with the Commission. It's good news for everyone."
Malik Salemkour, vice president of France's Human Rights League, which is a member of an umbrella advocacy group for Roma called Romeurope, said he was only partly satisfied with the decision.
French activists continue to petition the Commission with testimonies and statistics to show that France is discriminating against a minority community, that "all those who are being expelled are Roma, and all those who are being evicted from shantytowns are Roma," he said.
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