France faces legal action over Roma
The European Union has decided to launch legal action against France over its expulsions of Roma to poorer EU nations.
However the body 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 welcomed the fact it was not being accused of discrimination and claimed victory in its stand-off with the European Commission over expelling one of Europe's poorest minorities.
"The European Commission today (Wednesday) has decided to open infringement procedures against France," EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said.
She said the procedures would 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 the Second World War. 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.
Some 10 million to 12 million Roma live in Europe according to EU estimates, and they face wide discrimination in housing, jobs and education across the continent. As EU citizens, they have a right to travel to France, but must get papers to work or live there in the long term.
Sarkozy has defended the expulsions, saying they are part of an overall crackdown on illegal immigrants and crime. The government also says most of the Roma are leaving voluntarily, with a small cash handout from France. Most are being sent to Romania.