French president pays historic visit to Turkey after 22 years

French president pays historic visit to Turkey after 22 years

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
French president pays historic visit to Turkey after 22 years

The visit will also be Hollande's first after announcing his split with long-time partner Valérie Treilweiler. AFP photo

French President François Hollande arrived in Turkey today for an official visit, the first by a French head of state in 22 years, with official talks in Ankara aiming to promote bilateral ties after they regressed under former leader Nicolas Sarkozy.

Ankara’s agenda for the talks will focus on opening EU accession chapters 17, 22 and 23 during Greece’s EU presidency, which runs through June 30. However, France is known to be hesitant about opening chapter 17, regulating economic and monetary policies, which is directly related to full accession and could create difficulties for Hollande in domestic politics given that his popularity level at home is low ahead of local elections in March.

When Hollande came to power in 2012, his government resumed accession talks between Turkey and the EU, lifting its block on one negotiation chapter to kick-start relations between Ankara and the EU. Chapter 22 on regional policies, which was opened in fall 2013, paved the way for the resumption of negotiations after a three-year hiatus.

However, recent political turmoil in Turkey since the Dec. 17, 2013, graft probe has raised concerns in the EU, as German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier cautioned the Turkish government last week against recent purges of the police and the bureaucracy, urging Ankara to return to the “practices of the rule of law” while warning that the “opening of new chapters could get difficult.” 

Another topic that is expected to be high on Ankara’s agenda will be developments in Syria. Turkish leaders and Hollande will exchange views on the ongoing Geneva II peace conference. The resumption of talks in Cyprus is set to be another topic.

Hollande will be accompanied by France’s foreign, foreign trade, defense, energy, agriculture and energy ministers. Several agreements such as transportation and security will be signed during the visit, a Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News. The French president, from the Socialist Party, will also meet Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Both parties are members of the Socialist International.

Following his talks in Ankara, Hollande will travel to Istanbul to deliver a speech at Galatasaray University. Hollande and President Abdullah Gül will also participate in an economic forum bringing together Turkish and French business leaders.

France is currently the sixth biggest investor in Turkey; since Hollande came to power, bilateral trade has displayed an uptick, with the Turkish government opting for a Japanese-French joint venture led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and France’s Areva to build Turkey’s second nuclear power plant in Sinop.

Hollande is also expected to meet with Rakel Dink, the widow of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who was assassinated seven years ago. Debate over the Armenian genocide has long poisoned relations between the two countries, with French lawmakers trying to endorse a law criminalizing the denial of claims of genocide, contributing to the deterioration of bilateral relations.