German Chancellor Angela Merkel today denied that she had told French President Nicolas Sarkozy her country planned to evacuate its own illegal immigrant camps.
Mr Sarkozy, who has drawn widespread international condemnation for ordering the clearing out some 100 illegal immigrant camps, many inhabited by members of the Roma community, told reporters after the European Union summit yesterday that Germany planned similar action.
“Madame Merkel indicated to me her will to proceed in the coming weeks with the evacuation of camps. We will see at that point the calm that reigns in German political life,” he said.
Mrs Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the issue did not play any role in the leaders’ discussions. He added that the situation of Roma in Germany cannot be compared with France.
“We do not have camps like that,” Mr Seibert said at a regularly scheduled news conference. “It was not a topic.”
Mr Seibert said Mrs Merkel had not talked either at the EU summit or in conversation with Mr Sarkozy in Brussels “about putative Roma camps in Germany, not to mention their being cleared”.
Debate over France’s Roma expulsions dominated the EU summit yesterday.
In recent weeks, French authorities have moved in and dismantled the camps, which Mr Sarkozy says are havens of crime and squalor. More than 1,000 Roma have been deported from France, mainly to Romania.
Mr Seibert refused to comment on how the comments had originated or what was behind them, warning that they should not be blown out of proportion.
“We should not blow this up into a strain on French-German relations,” Mr Seibert said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, in an interview earlier with Deutschlandfunk radio, described Mr Sarkozy’s comment on the chancellor’s alleged plan as a “misunderstanding”.
Earlier this week, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding sharply criticised the deportations and linked them to France’s mass deportations of Jews during World War II.
She later expressed regret over the wartime comparison, but maintained her threat to take France to court for targeting an ethnic group in the expulsions.
Germany has criticised the tone of Ms Reding’s comments but has steered clear of comment on the expulsions themselves.
The wartime comparison stung many in France. The country deported some 76,000 Jews from France to Nazi concentration camps and interned thousands of Gypsies in camps in France during the war.