EU can help Turkey transform: French President Hollande
French President François Hollande held talks with President Abdullah Gül in Ankara Jan 27. Hollande was the first French head of state to make a formal trip to Turkey in 22 years after François Mitterrand. AA photoFrench President Francois Hollande expressed his belief that the EU can help Turkey’s transformation thanks to its ongoing accession process, and underlined that France will “not be in a position to stop the negotiation process,” during a first official visit from a French head of state to Turkey since 1992.
His remarks therefore seemed to give the green light for the removal of France’s blockage of four negotiation chapters.
“The opening of new chapters would support Turkey, as some of the negotiation chapters are related to topics - the separation of powers, fundamental rights, the rule of law and the judiciary - that are also connected to the current debate in Turkey’s domestic politics,” Hollande said on Jan. 27, speaking at a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gül.
“The opening of new chapters would help Turkey progress,” he added.
Hollande arrived in Ankara early on Monday with a large delegation composed of ministers, businessmen and journalists. He held talks with Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and was also expected to meet with Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu before moving to Istanbul, where he will head a business forum and deliver a speech at Galatasaray University.
The French leader said his country supported the continuation of Turkey’s EU negotiation process, but added that it would make a final decision on Turkey’s membership with a referendum at the end of the process. “There is no need to unnecessarily agitate using some fears,” Hollande said, in an indirect reference to skepticism in his country about Turkey’s full membership to the EU. “Fourteen chapters out of 35 have been opened since 2004. Which means that we should continue the negotiations process. At the end of the day, the final decision will be given by the French people,” he said, referring to the future referendum that will take place on Turkey’s membership.
For his part, President Gül asked Hollande not to block Turkey’s EU candidacy.
“We welcome the positive stance that Hollande has adopted over the past few years. But the negotiation process does not mean full membership. The negotiation process is an adaptation process. We hope a political blockage will not take place,” he said.
“We are not in a rush for membership. But we are in rush for the continuation of talks without political or other sorts of blockages. I am not only referring to France, but all countries,” Gül added.
Asked about the recent ongoing political turmoil in Turkey, he said there were many debates in the country, “as Turkey is a democratic country with an open society.”
“There is no question about political stability in Turkey … Debates may be tough from time to time, but in a mature way. But all this neither [negatively] affects Turkey’s political stability nor its economy,” Gül said.
Describing Hollande’s visit to Turkey as “an opportunity,” Gül said “both countries should benefit from it.”
Strategic agreements signed
Turkey and France signed a strategic cooperation agreement during Hollande’s state visit to Ankara, along with many other agreements, including on nuclear energy and infrastructure projects. President Hollande underscored economic opportunities in nuclear and renewable energy, agriculture, and transportation.
“In our talks with the [French] president we identified a new target of 20 billion Euros for our bilateral trade volume,” Gül said, adding that the agreements signed today would help bolster already strong economic and trade ties between the two allies.
Touching on the Syrian crisis, Hollande stressed the issue of cooperation to work against extremist groups in Syria, and underlined Turkey and France’s responsibilities in the Mediterranean region.
Armenian genocide on the table
The two presidents also exchanged views on a potential attempt to ban denial that the 1915 massacres of Ottoman Armenians constituted genocide through a legal proposal at the French Parliament. President Gül said they discussed the issue in a very sincere and open way and emphasized the need for a joint study of the 1915 events by historians and with participation of third parties.
“Just like in the French-Algerian case. We cannot deal with this issue on our own. There is need for a joint work,” Gül stressed, repeating Turkey’s call for the establishment of a joint committee.
Recalling that freedom of speech was an essential part of European values, he also said both sides of the argument should be able to express their views in France. “We respect the verdict of the French Constitutional Council on this issue,” Gül said.
Indirectly calling on Armenia and the Armenian diaspora to leave the pains of the past behind and not to transfer them through the generations, Gül gave the friendship between Turkey and Australia-New Zealand after the Dardanelles War as an example. “We should not transfer these pains to our children. Instead we should be able to create new friendships between our children,” he said.
Hollande also touched on the need for “intense joint work” on the issue on the eve of the centennial anniversary of the 1915 events. French president did not give a sign of renewing attempts to ban the denial of the genocide, but underlined that they would be “whatever the laws stipulated,” referring France’s recognition of the mass killings of Armenians as genocide in 2000.
The two presidents also reviewed the developments in Syria and the ongoing Geneva 2 conference in detail. Both Gül and Hollande stressed that the conference should bring about a transitional government with full executive power, in a way not to leave gray areas that could leave “unwanted entities” within Syria.