May 12, 2012 (AFP)
May 12, 2012 (AFP)
Turkey is hoping that new French president Francois Hollande will open a fresh page in relations with Ankara and, unlike his predecessor, back the Muslim-majority country’s EU bid.
“We are hoping that he (Hollande) would open a new page in the very deep and fruitful historical relations between Turkey and France,” Turkey’s European Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis told AFP.
Ankara would like to see France “become one of the champions of Turkish integration in the EU,” as it was under president Jacques Chirac, he said.
That was not the case under the outgoing French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, who opposed Turkey becoming a full member of the European Union.
Tensions between Ankara and Paris also flared this year over a French law making it a crime to deny the Armenian massacre by Ottoman Turks, a point of World War I history that Turkey disputes. The law was eventually overturned by the French Constitutional Court.
“Sarkozy, probably he had different priorities. Sarkozy was a very smart politician. He saw an opportunity of a vote to the extreme right and he went after that,” Bagis commented.
It worked in 2007, he added, “but I think it did not work in the second election.”
Hollande, after winning the run-off vote on May 6, will take over as president on May 15. The Socialist leader has shown himself to be more open to Turkey’s EU ambitions.
Bagis spoke of mending fences with Paris in a friendly spirit of finding solutions.
“We are not in the business of creating animosity, we are in the business of creating friendship, where diplomacy and politics are part of finding solutions, not creating problems,” he said.
For his part Hollande has noted that Turkey would not become an EU member during his five-year term — the road to EU accession is a long one.
Turkey and the EU began formal accession negotiations in 2005 but since then Brussels has opened with Ankara only 13 of the 35 policy chapters that every state must negotiate in order to join the bloc. Just one chapter has been successfully closed.
Besides opposition from France, along with Austria and Germany, the talks have stalled over problems relating to the ethnic Greek government of EU member Cyprus, a Mediterranean island divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Only Ankara recognizes the Turkish Cypriot statelet in the north.
Turkey has threatened to freeze diplomatic relations with the EU when Cyprus takes on the rotating EU presidency for six months in July if there is no reunification deal.
Yet Ankara continues to pursue European integration even now as the bloc is mired in an economic crisis. Turkey in contrast saw its economy expand by 8.5 percent last year.
But Bagis says for Turkey the EU is not an economic project but a major avenue for peace.
“Turkey can turn the grandest peace project of the history of mankind, which is the EU, from being a continental project to a global project.”
He sees Turkey as a democratic inspiration in the Arab world and that Europe could have a greater influence there with Ankara at its side.