Relations with France remain on thin ice

Relations with France remain on thin ice

Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. Several Turkish figures came out after French lawmakers took the bill criminalizing the denial of Armenian genocide claims to the Constitutional Council. 

The high number of senators that signed the petition to challenge the bill surprised many in both Turkey and France. Yet the real surprise came from the National Assembly. More than 60 members of the National Assembly joined the senators to challenge the bill. It seems that Michel Diefenbacher, the head of the Turkish-French Friendship Group, played a key role in gathering the signatures. This should make us think to what degree the decision to dissolve the Turkish-French Friendship group in Turkish Parliament was a wise step to take.

The Turkish side argues it was these types of reactions that got French lawmakers mobilized. I am not sure whether the threat of suspending relations was behind Diefenbacher’s efforts. Obviously the threat of sanctions definitely had an impact, since apparently the exporters of meat who started to have lucrative deals with Turkey got mobilized and lobbied the parliamentarians of their region. 

Yet Turkish officials do accept that factors other than reprisals have also played a role in the outcome. While Turkey has realized it had more “allies” than it thought in France, an unlikely support seems to have come from the far right. “In the past we used to have the French Jewish community on our side and the far right on the opposite. This time the Jewish lobby was silently standing behind Armenians while we found the far right next to us,” a Turkish official who underlined Marine Le Pen’s statement criticizing the notorious bill told me. “It’s their hatred of Sarkozy as well that led them to criticize the bill,” said the same official.

An unintended consequence of the whole process seems to be the political mobilization of the Turkish community in France. Apparently the number of Turks that registered to be able to vote in elections has doubled in certain regions. This pleased Turkish officials who otherwise had to go through an extremely unpleasant process, which is not yet over.

While there is optimism the Constitutional Council will annul the bill, the possibility for other options should not be excluded. The council might opt for partial annulment or adopt it while introducing some interpretation to the bill. In both cases the gist of the bill will remain, but the requirements to open a court case will become much harder.

For now it is impossible to predict Ankara’s reaction if the council makes a decision that is short of total annulment. 

France has been told the level of diplomatic relations will be lowered unless and until the law is annulled. If Ankara decides to recall its ambassador and send the French envoy back, this will be a first in the 4-centuries-old diplomatic ties of the two countries. In addition there is the possibility that relations might remain so for several years to come, as it will become harder to annul the bill.

This also shows Ankara’s stance toward the EU because having lowered diplomatic relations with one of the most important countries of the EU will certainly have its consequence in Turkey’s accession bid.