France and Turkey: New horizons for a long-standing relationship

France and Turkey: New horizons for a long-standing relationship

The president of the French Republic has marked France’s will to establish a “stable and trusting relationship” with Turkey. In preparation for his forthcoming visit to Turkey, I would like to encourage us here and now to drive forward our bilateral relations.

We often find that little is known about the importance of our economic and trade relations. Who today knows that Turkey is our 12th customer worldwide, and our fifth largest market outside the EU and Switzerland, well ahead of emerging countries such as Brazil and India? In recent years, our trade has flourished with exports to Turkey having increased by two and a half times in just 10 years.

France has an impressive network of 10 world-class, French-speaking establishments in Turkey. In the scientific field, we conduct joint world-class projects every year on the Programme Bosphore.

As NATO allies, France and Turkey take part in joint missions. Our relationship offers all the more opportunities to work together, since Turkish foreign policy has largely broadened its horizons this last decade.

The Arab Spring has challenged some well-rooted principles and views. The people have rallied and shown that the aspiration for freedom and justice is universal. France and Turkey have acknowledged this sea change by providing their support for the legitimate aspirations of the Arab peoples and supporting their move towards democratic, pluralistic institutions. Today our two countries are among the most active in seeking a resolution to the Syrian conflict, increasing the pressure on Bashar al-Assad’s regime for him to stand down.

I would like to tell the Turkish people how much I appreciate the huge efforts made by their country to receive Syrian refugees on their soil.

When President François Hollande took office, he wasted no time in stepping up high-level meetings with President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. My government is keen to develop our relations with Turkey.

The European Union needs a strong Turkey with a sound, buoyant economy, just as Turkey needs the European Union, which represents nearly 50 percent of its foreign trade.

With the adoption of the “Positive Agenda” and the prospect of visa liberalization, we have a certain number of tools on the table. We are set to take the negotiations forward on Turkey’s accession in good faith, considering the past commitments without anticipating the future in all its details. Since the protection of individual and collective freedoms is a pillar of the European project, human rights and civil liberties need to be promoted further. I subscribe, in this regard, to President Gül’s words when he said that Turkey’s relations with its Western allies are not just a foreign and security issue but are based on common values which, he concluded, should lead Turkey to continue down the reform road.

The question of the Armenian genocide is a sensitive and difficult subject that has all too often cast a shadow over our bilateral relations. In Turkey, many criticize France for embracing the “Armenian theses.” In France, many feel that Turkey is trying to minimize, if not deny the tragedy that befell the ancestors of our compatriots of Armenian origin. Things are changing. My colleague Ahmet Davutoğlu has made encouraging statements. I quote, “The Armenians have before them someone who is listening. This foreign minister does not claim that nothing happened in 1915.”

For myself, I am not unaware of Turkey’s share of suffering during the gradual dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire, with its succession of massacres and exoduses. However, I do believe that the disappearance of the Armenian civilization from Anatolian soil warrants some thinking on Turkey’s part as to what is needed to heal the wounds opened in 1915.

I hope that one day soon, we can achieve a calm, fair reading of history. In the meantime, we should try to learn to live with respect for the diversity of the legacies of which we are the guardians.

We have a great deal to do and to develop in all sectors of our cooperation, in the cultural and scientific areas, in internal security, in justice, in agriculture, and in business, in particular to encourage French businesses to work with the Turkish market and to encourage Turkish firms to invest in France.

The progress made in these areas, and the progress ongoing, means that today we can look forward to our future relations with optimism and ambition. I welcome this progress and will personally work on further developments with strength and conviction.

* Laurent Fabius is the minister of foreign affairs of the French Republic. This abridged article was originally published in the Fall 2012 issue of Turkish Policy Quarterly (TPQ).