Ankara, Paris committed to opening a new page in ties

Ankara, Paris committed to opening a new page in ties

Amid all the sound and fury over Syria, particularly following the downing of a Turkish jet by Syrian forces, another very important development in Turkish foreign policy will take place this week in Paris. 

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will hold bilateral talks with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius on July 5, after months of coldness between the two allies over the former French administration’s inexplicably antagonistic attitude towards Ankara. 

Nicholas Sarkozy’s exit from the Elysée Palace after Socialist François Hollande’s victory has already signaled that a reconciliation process can now commence between Ankara and Paris. Hollande has met with President Abdullah Gül in Chicago and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Brazil on the margins of international summits. 

But the real kick-off is planned for Paris this week. Both sides are working seriously to make this first gathering a success and a meaningful start to increased cooperation in many fields. The most important issue, however, will be Syria. As the bilateral meeting between the two ministers will take place just a day before the third meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People, Davutoğlu and Fabius will evaluate recent developments in the wake of the Geneva and Cairo meetings. One should expect more consultation between the two capitals now, as both countries host important figures in the Syrian opposition, who have yet to complete the establishment of a united front against the Bashar al-Assad regime. 

At the bilateral meeting, France’s expectation is that the military sanctions Turkey imposed after France’s parliamentary panel approved the bill penalizing the denial of Armenian genocide on Dec. 22, 2011 will be lifted. Although Erdoğan called for the removal of these eight sanctions, his instruction has not yet been effectuated. French military planes cannot use Turkish airspace, and vessels are still forbidden to enter Turkish territorial waters. The French Defense Attaché is still on the blacklist of the Chief of General Staff. France expects that Davutoğlu will formally announce the removal of these sanctions during the talks in Paris. 

In return, Ankara’s expectation is the removal of France’s block on five negotiation chapters of Turkey’s EU membership bid. Fabius will likely tell his Turkish counterpart that the new administration is not against blocking Turkey’s accession talks, as Hollande stated in his election campaign. However, the removal of the blocks would take some time. And due to the fact that Greek Cyprus is EU term president for the second half of 2012, the two sides can spend this time effectively working on these chapters and completing preparations for the Irish term presidency in 2013. 

The renewal of the 60-year-old agreement on cooperation in the field of culture is equally important. Updating this agreement will allow Turkey to open Yunus Emre Culture Institutes in France, while France can strengthen its three institutes in Turkey. 

Apart from all of these positive issues, there is no doubt that the strong Armenian diaspora will continue to exert pressure on French lawmakers to adopt a law penalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide until 2015, the centennial of the so-called genocide. The fact that the French Constitutional Council nixed the last such attempt in April will surely make future moves more difficult, but that will not douse efforts by some devoted French lawmakers in the future. The Davutoğlu-Fabius meeting will also address this potential, and will seek ways to best avoid a future potential crisis.