The French government's decision to expel hundreds of Roma has been met with fierce criticism [AFP]

The president of the European Commission has reminded EU member states to respect the rights of its citizens, in what has been seen as veiled criticism of France's policy towards it Roma minority.

In his state of the union address at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Jose Manuel Barroso said European governments were obliged to respect the rights of minorities.

"Everyone in Europe must respect the law, and the governments must respect human rights, including those of minorities," Barroso said on Tuesday.

"Racism and xenophobia have no place in Europe. On such sensitive issues, when a problem arises, we must all act with responsibility."

Although Barroso did not mention France, his comments come as the European Commission continues to question Paris over its treatment of Roma.

France under scrutiny

Viviane Reding, the EU Justice Commissioner told the European Parliament on Tuesday that the French authorities will need to give more information on "a number of issues" and seek help from the EU to make sure they actions against Roma are legal.

France, which insists that it does not unfairly target the minority group, has expelled expelled hundreds of Roma in the past month during a crackdown of camps around the country.

Debate over Roma, many from Romania and Bulgaria, has increased as tens of thousands migrate around Europe under EU laws on the free movement of citizens.

Many migrants have not found work and are frequently the target of discrimination.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has said France's expulsions are security measures to combat crime, but critics say they are part of a drive to revive his popularity and divert attention from pension reforms and spending cuts.

Source: Agencies