Better to keep Turkey closer to Europe

Better to keep Turkey closer to Europe

The relations between France and Turkey had turned into a mess under Nicholas Sarkozy. Replacing him, François Hollande has been the first French President to officially visit Turkey after 22 years.

The visit alone is an indication that the potential is there to develop relations further, without actually changing the basic policies for both sides, but simply highlighting joint interests, not problems.

For example, the main reason why Ankara and Paris were at odds under Sarkozy was the Armenian issue. As Sarkozy had endorsed a bill to criminalize saying there was no Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire circa 1915, before the Constitutional Court had nixed it (on the basis of violating freedom of expression), on top of blocking five Chapters of the European Union (EU) negotiations with Turkey, Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government became furious and blacklisted French companies from government tenders in Turkey. The share of French companies in the Turkish market was halved from 6 to 3 percent between 2009 and 2012.

Hollande did not change his or France’s policy regarding the Armenian issue. To make that a point, he included in his schedule a meeting today, Jan. 28 in Istanbul with Rakel Dink, the widowed wife of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink who was murdered by an ultranationalist mob back in 2007. But Hollande announced he would not make the issue a problem in relations with Turkey and lifted the block on one (but only one) EU chapter. Turkey annulled the black list and French, together with Japan, won the tender to build Turkey’s second nuclear power plant in Sinop, by the Black Sea coast.
It would be wrong for both Turkey and France to see the dynamics of this relationship as EU steps in return for government contract steps.

Because, as the recent example on Turkey’s government-judiciary crisis that started with the Dec. 17, 2013 graft probe showed, the EU can still play a constructive role on Turkish democracy, and of course, economy. When Erdoğan heard the properly worded message from the EU on the judiciary bill to have more political control over judges and prosecutors, combined with pressure from within, Erdoğan froze the bill to give another chance for a conceptual Constitutional amendment package.

Getting closer with the EU’s democratic and economic standards is good for Turkish people and keeping Turkey closer to Europe, that is to say, the West, is good for European people because it keeps Turkey away from the centrifugal forces trying to drag it to its East; the current quagmire of the Muslim geography.

When Turkish President Abdullah Gül said in the joint press conference yesterday that Turkey wanted to have more steps toward Europe, implying the existing French block on the remaining chapter, Hollande said for a transparent democracy and independent judiciary EU could help Turkey to transfer itself better. That topic, in a way, refers to the 23th and 24th Chapters of negotiations in which France can indeed lead the way.

Hollande’s visit to Ankara, especially since he was escorted by a number of key ministers and investors, gives a unique opportunity to enhance both political and economic relations, not only between Turkey and France, but Turkey and the European Union as well; this opportunity should not be missed.