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Gypsy wrath: Sarkozy faces EU anger over expulsions

EU takes on France over Roma policy; women wanted for Europe’s diplomatic service; Ireland is this month’s Greece; European commissioner, the job that keeps on giving.

Top News: The European Union's executive body is normally rather circumspect in its dealings with the 27 member nations that made up the EU taking pains to avoid a direct clash with national capitals that may upset the smooth running of the business-by-consensus on which the union is based.

However after weeks of prevaricating, the crackdown on Roma-Gypsy citizens of eastern European origin begun by French authorities over the summer proved too much for the European Commission, or at least its vice president in charge of judicial issues Viviane Reding. The result was a war of words between Paris and Brussels which dominated headlines across the continent.

Reding unleashed a verbal blast against France after a leaked French government memorandum showed that local authorities had received specific instructions to target Roma, in direct contradiction to assurances she had received from Paris that the expulsions were being carried out on an individual, case-by-case basis rather than targeting an ethnic group.

The lady from Luxembourg called the French action a "disgrace"; suggested French ministers lied to her; announced she’d be starting legal action against France; and, most explosively, likened the French treatment of the gypsies to World War II-era ethnic expulsions in Europe. Reding wasn't the only one to make such comparisons but coming from such a senior European official, the comments hit home.

France responded with an outburst of predictable outrage. One French official suggested that Luxembourg take in Europe's dislocated gypsies and a senator from the governing party even declared that Europe would have been better off if France and Germany had carved up Luxembourg  between them. President Nicolas Sarkozy refused to show up at an EU summit until Reding's boss — European Commission President José Manuel Barroso — apologized for her comments.

Barroso duly explained that it was all a big misunderstanding and the summit went ahead, but rather than the planned debate on EU foreign policy, the EU gathering was dominated by the Roma issue. Sarkozy proudly announced that most EU leaders had offered him support and agreed that Reding had gone too far.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, Sarkozy told a news conference, had even decided to follow France's lead and clear out Gypsy camps in Germany.

Unfortunately for him this turned out to be another misunderstanding.

German officials furiously denied that Merkel had given any such assurances and Paris now found itself in a war of words with Berlin.

France did get some support. Italian authorities have also shown their determination to push out unwelcome Balkan Gypsy communities. Spain, on the other hand,  was held up as example of how to successfully integrate the Roma minority.

 At the end of September, Reding made good on her threat and instigated legal proceedings against France, albeit on EU free circulation rules, rather than the harder charge of discrimination.

If the gyspy issue knocked foreign policy from the top of the summit agenda, EU leaders did manage to agree that there was work to be done to ensure their voice is heard in the world.

In particular they are seeking to add focus to the bloc's foreign policy to target relations with so called "strategic partners" namely big powers such as the United States, China, Russia, Japan and India. The problem lies in balancing the EU's vision of Europe's common good with the individual overseas interests of all 27 members.

Those sometimes conflicting interests have been thrown into focus by the setting up of the EU's new diplomatic. The first batch of appointments to head EU embassies was watched with great attention in capitals to find out if their man (and it was mostly men) had landed a prime assignment with little concern that Europe chose the best candidate to represent the bloc's 500 million people .

Money: On the economic front, the financial woes of Spain, Portugal and in particular Ireland continued to raise concern that the fragility of some euro-zone members could lead to a sovereign debt default.  

As the bill to clean up its stricken financial institutions increased the Republic’s budget deficit to an expected 32 percent in 2010, weighing further on the national debt, Ireland was this month's Greece. Despite fears that the economy was also heading toward the dreaded double-dip, officials insisted that it didn't need a bailout from the emergency fund which the EU set up after Greece's near meltdown earlier this year.

The EU meanwhile was drafting a plan to deter nations from ever again running up euro-threatening budget deficits or hiding the sorry state of their finances with a package of fines and sanctions for spendthrift governments.

Europe's trade unions were responding with transcontinental protests against austerity policies being adopted by governments across the EU. The unions sent tens of thousands into the streets in support of an alternative argument that austerity risks smothering tentative signs of recovery.

Elsewhere: While most of the continent was in the grip of austerity, one small minority group was revealed to have a more than cozy future guaranteed. Media reports revealed that former top political appointees at the EU's head office can claim generous payments when they step down as European Commissioners — even if they walk directly into prime private sector jobs.

Embarrassed EU spokespeople, were forced to explain the system that grants "transitional payments" often around €10,000 a month to former commissioners for up to three years to allow them to re-integrate into the labor market.

The money keeps flowing after they start new jobs, just so long as their total income does not exceed their full commissioner salary, starting at just below €20,000.