On Hollande’s visit to Turkey

On Hollande’s visit to Turkey

It’s the political equivalent of showing up with flowers and walking straight into a bar room brawl.
And by all accounts, François Hollande will have every intention of playing the accidental tourist when he touches down Monday for the long overdue first state visit by a French president to Turkey in 22 years.

Not only are supporters of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan duking it out with those who support U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, but Hollande will be the first major Western leader to visit Turkey since the Gezi Park protests. This past week, when the Turkish prime minister visited Brussels, the European Commission publicly voiced “concern” over “respect for the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and, generally speaking, the separation of powers” under Erdoğan. 

Hollande to spend time with Gül

But all is stage-managed for Hollande and his hosts to avoid blushes.

“That’s the beauty of a formal state visit,” said Marc Sémo, journalist at French daily Libération.  “Because of protocol, he’ll see very little of Erdoğan. Most of his time will be spent with President Abdullah Gül, the acceptable face of Turkey.”

Hollande’s joint press conference will be with Gül, not Erdoğan.

Make no mistake. There was wavering in Paris over whether to postpone or cancel but the argument was soon over when advisors highlighted how from 2009 to 2012, France’s share of trade with Turkey dropped from 6 percent to 3 percent.

“It’s better to talk than to let a country on the borders of Europe choose a different orientation from ours,” said an advisor to Hollande before adding “the role of the president will not be to judge but to encourage.”

The French president’s mission will be to duck and weave his way to the table where Paris can sign on the dotted line for deals that would include the Sinop nuclear power plant, a project that brings together Areva, Gaz de France, along with Japan’s Mitsubishi.

Socialist Hollande will not only steer well clear of Turkish politics, he’ll be loudly putting as much distance between himself and his predecessor, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.

“The previous government had different relations,” said an Hollande advisor in reference to Sarkozy who made keeping Turkey out of the EU a staple of his 2007 presidential campaign platform and the subsequent draft bill to criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide.

“The only possible surprises could come when Hollande meets students at Galatasaray University Tuesday,” added Sémo, pointing to what could be the best hope for those rooting for some unscripted straight-talk… from both sides.