The European Union may take legal action against France for its expulsion of hundreds of Roma, the bloc's justice commissioner has said.
Viviane Reding described last month's deportations as a "disgrace" on Tuesday and said that France had been duplicitious in how it dealt with European authorities over the issue.
"This is not a minor offence in a situation of this importance," she said.
"After 11 years of experience in the commission, I even go further - this is a disgrace. Discrimination on the basis or ethnic origin or race has no place in Europe."
She said it was likely that the commission would have "no choice but to initiate infringement procedures against France" for discriminatory policies.
"No member state can expect special treatment when fundamental values and European laws are at stake," she said, adding that steps could be taken within weeks.
France said it was "astonished" by the development, but would not be drawn into an argument.
French assurances 'contradicted'
Paul Brennan, Al Jazeera's correspondent in London, said Reding had been under pressure for several weeks from members of the European parliament demanding to know the legal status of France's treatment of the Roma people.
He added that her unusually strong words on Tuesday contrasted starkly with previous comments in which she said she did not believe the EU could "declare war" on a member state.
Our correspondent said possible legal steps could include the issue being brought before the European Court of Justice and a fine against France imposed.
France has faced international criticism for its deportation of around 1,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria in August.
The move was part of a country-wide crackdown on the ethnic minority, which saw more than 100 camps dismantled.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, had described the camps as sources of trafficking, exploitation of children and prostitution.
Authorities had also denied that the expulsions targeted an ethnic group, saying they were on a case-by-case basis.
But news reports of a government letter ordering regional officials to speed up a crackdown on camps of Roma contradicted this.
Reding, referring to the letter, criticised the government for giving assurances to the EU commission that it was not discriminating against the ethnic minority.
"It is my deepest regret that political assurances given by two French ministers is now openly contradicted," she said.
"The role of the commissioners as guardians of the treaties is made extremely difficult if we can no longer have confidence in the assurances given by two ministers in a formal meeting."
"I personally have been appalled by a situation which gave the impression that people are being removed from a member state of the European Union just because they belong to a certain ethnic minority," she told a news conference in Brussels, the Belgian capital.
"This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War."
Some 8,000 Roma have been deported from France since the beginning of the year, after 9,875 were expelled in 2009.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies