Ankara and Paris, lived happily ever after?

Ankara and Paris, lived happily ever after?

Marc Pierini, the European Union’s former envoy to Ankara, puts it directly in his book titled “Where is Turkey going?” which was published last year and recently translated into Turkish.

Pierini points his finger at France and Germany as the main obstacles in front of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. “The negative prevailing factor in my view lies in a simple historic fact: In the 60 years of European construction for the first time the French–German duo will no longer be the two countries with the biggest population since Turkey will rank first or second,” he writes. This will certainly be a serious disturbance for the governing elites both on the right and on the left, both in France and Germany, according to Pierini.

We have to thank Pierini, a French national with a long career in the European Commission, for his frankness.

This fact, already known to many observers of the EU, justifies the prevailing feeling among Turks who believe that no matter what Turkey does, the EU will never open its doors for membership. Having said that, is this a reason to give up the membership bid? Of course it is not. As has been said a million times, the main target in the accession process is to reach the EU’s democratic and economic standards.
When the day comes when Turkey would have fulfilled the membership criteria, Turks might decide that they do not want their money to finance Greeks’ afternoon siesta while they are working like hell; a possibility not to be excluded easily unless the EU reforms itself.

In this perspective, what to make of French President François Hollande’s visit to Turkey?

First of all, the aim of the visit was to repair the damage done by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, whose vulgar statements created deep resentment among Turks. “You will have a hard time to convince me that Europe’s frontiers end at Syria or Iraq. Cappadocia in Europe? This is inconceivable,” he stated in 2007.

“Turkey is in Europe,” repeated Hollande in his several statements open to the public. This was in clear reference to Sarkozy’s statements. This was both directed to Turks as much as to the French. “We should not be afraid of Turkey,” he said, addressing a group from the French community in Istanbul, adding that some agitated this fear, again a reference to Sarkozy without naming him.

So are we to conclude that just because the government went from the right to the left, in other words came under the control of the Socialists, that France has a positive view of Turkish membership? Of course not. Because as underlined by Pierini, Turkey's eventual membership is frightening for all French governing elites, be they from the right or the left. France is conveying the message that it has a “positive” view of “the process,” not the membership.

In fact, France came to the understanding that Turks have been advising them for such a long time.
“Turkey’s membership is a sensitive issue. But we are nowhere near it. Why try to obstruct a process that will take a long time to reach its final aim? At the end of the day, France holds the right to say no,” Hollande said.

At the moment; both Ankara and Paris are extremely happy with Hollande’s visit. This will not only boost relations on the economic front but all aspects of bilateral ties, and especially cultural ones, which will help improve Turkey’s image in France.

Ankara seems set to tolerate France’s constructive ambiguity on the Armenian question as well as on whether it will deliver on its words on not obstructing the EU process.

After all, Hollande will soon visit Yerevan and face municipal elections as well as elections for the European Parliament in the spring. But Paris should not forget that there is a limit to the time it can gain by constructive ambiguity.