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Roma ‘war’ turns into summer of dissent for French President Nicolas Sarkozy August 31, 2010

Posted by Yilan in France.
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DISSENT over Nicolas Sarkozy’s crackdown on Roma immigrants has surfaced at the highest level of the French cabinet.

the unrst has set the scene for the President to sack disgruntled ministers and appoint a new, more right-wing, government.

Bernard Kouchner, 70, the Foreign Minister and popular humanitarian campaigner, said yesterday he had considered resigning over the past month’s drive to deport thousands of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria.

“I am not happy with what has happened. I have been working with the Roma for 25 years,” the former Socialist minister, who switched camps to join President Sarkozy in 2007, said. “What can I do to help the situation? Resign? I have thought about it”

In a radio interview he said that he had told President Sarkozy of his misgivings but decided not to “desert my post”.

Dr Kouchner, who handled the Roma when he was UN High Commissioner for Kosovo, was the second cabinet member to break ranks. On Saturday Herve Morin, the Defence Minister, attacked colleagues who, he said, had stirred “hatred, fear and created scapegoats,” with their rhetoric.

Francois Fillon, the Prime Minister, acknowledged that there was “a malaise” in the President’s centre-right political camp over the Roma campaign and that he sometimes differed from the President. However, he defended the policy as legal and necessary.

Dr Kouchner, the oldest but still most dashing member of the cabinet, and Mr Morin, the leader of the small New Centre party, are from outside Mr Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement . Both were already expected to lose their jobs in a cabinet revamp in October. Their departure now seems certain.

With an eye to re-election in 2012 President Sarkozy plans to relaunch his unpopular administration with a new, smaller government composed mainly of loyalists from the UMP.

Like other cabinet outsiders from the centre and left, Dr Kouchner and Mr Morin have until now swallowed misgivings over Mr Sarkozy’s more radical measures on law and order.

Dr Kouchner, who was a founder of the Medecins sans Frontieres charity and is one of the country’s most popular politicians, has long been in conflict with Mr Sarkozy.

Veterans at the Quai d’Orsay, as the Foreign Ministry is known, say that he was relegated from the start to the role of mere executant while the Elysee Palace has run foreign policy under Mr Sarkozy’s orders.

By adding their voices to criticism from inside France and abroad, the dissident ministers will have irritated the President but they are unlikely to shake his resolve over a policy that has public support, according to polls. The Immigration Minister, Eric Besson, promised to step up deportations of foreigners caught begging or stealing aggressively. “Today in Paris the reality is that the perpetrator of one theft in five is a Romanian,” he said.

Privately, Mr Sarkozy has been scathing over the foreign criticism, which has come from Pope Benedict XVI, French bishops, the OSCE, a United Nations anti-racism panel and the EU Commission. The most embarrassing blows have landed from rivals in the moderate wing of his party. These have included three former prime ministers. Dominique de Villepin, who was Mr Sarkozy’s boss until 2007, called the policy over the Roma and President Sarkozy’s summer “war” on immigrant crime “a stain on the flag of France”.

Mr Fillon stuck to the Sarkozy line yesterday and voiced indignation over remarks by Monsignor Robert Le Gall, the Archbishop of Toulouse, who compared the action against the Roma to the deportation of Jews in World War II. However, the Prime Minister is known to have reservations over aspects of the Roma policy. He attempted to rein in the more hardline ministers.

Mr Sarkozy is wrestling with the decision on whether to remove Mr Fillon and place a fresh figure at the head of his new cabinet. Insiders say that he is in two minds over the popular, cool-headed Prime Minister, who serves as a useful counterbalance to his own impetuous image.

Friction between the pair has increased lately and Mr Fillon has taken to asserting his identity. The biggest symbol of this came 10 days ago when the Prime Minister wore a collarless casual jacket and open-necked shirt at a cabinet session that was called by the protocol-minded President at his Mediterranean summer residence.

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