Turkey, EU must cooperate more than ever: France

Turkey, EU must cooperate more than ever: France

Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
Turkey, EU must cooperate more than ever: France


Turkey and the European Union need to work together more than ever to save lives amid historic challenges, France’s top diplomat has said, admitting the bloc must help Turkey’s development, modernization and democratization even if the road will be long.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who will hold talks in Ankara with top Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Oct. 24, spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News about his visit to Turkey in the aftermath of July 15 failed coup attempt. 

How would you describe the coup attempt staged on July 15 in Turkey? 

The events during the night of 15 July were a real shock. How could anyone have conceived that an attempted coup d’état against a democratically elected government could still take place in Turkey in 2016? Personally, I have a very clear memory of that moment: the first information coming out of Turkey during the evening of July 15, just 24 hours after France was hit by a large-scale terrorist attack in Nice, on our own national holiday, was another shock. France was one of the first countries to condemn this attempted coup d’état. I remember speaking with the minister of foreign affairs, Mevlüt Ҫavusoǧlu, on July 16 to offer my condolences for all the victims of the putsch, and to commend the courage and commitment of the Turkish people and all groups across the political spectrum to defend Turkey’s democratic institutions.

I was keen to visit Ankara to reiterate this message of solidarity, on the very spot where these events took place. I will be visiting parliament, the symbol of Turkish democracy, so hard-hit during the night of July 15, to pay tribute on behalf of France to the courage of the Turkish people, who rose to defend democracy.

‘Normalization of institutions important after coup attempt’

How would you evaluate Turkey’s reaction against the coup plotters and the declaration of the state of emergency, which France also declared after terrorist attacks?

The Turkish authorities’ desire to do everything possible to ensure the perpetrators of the attempted coup d’état are tried and punished is understandable, and we do not underestimate the seriousness of the various threats Turkey currently has to face, particularly terrorism.

After this collective trauma suffered by a whole people, it is important for Turkey’s institutions to return to a normal, serene functioning, so that democracy eventually comes out stronger after this testing time.

Like our European partners, we also [believe] that the Turkish authorities’ response has to comply with the rule of law, the respect for fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, and Turkey’s international commitments. These principles are central to the values we share with Turkey, as Mevlüt Ҫavusoǧlu recently underlined at the Council of Europe.

Everyone needs to contribute to this effort to strengthen democracy and institutions, in the spirit of national unity which President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan called for from the Turkish people in the aftermath of the attempted coup.

How do you think the stalemate over visa liberalization can be overcome?

Turkey and the EU need to work together more than ever before, and that is in their interests. Strong commitments were made on March 18 during the EU-Turkey Summit, which will enable us to respond better, collectively, to the historic challenge we face and to save lives, by acting to combat illegal migration.

Talks are continuing with the aim of satisfying the criteria that still need to be fulfilled to enable the implementation of the visa liberalization agreement. As regards the counter-terrorism law, we in no case are asking Turkey to diminish its ability to combat this scourge.

A country like France, which itself faces terrorism, understands and shares the need to fight against this threat. This effort has to take place with respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, in accordance with the commitments both France and Turkey have made in the framework of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. What we want to see is a clear distinction being made between the perpetrators of terrorist acts and those who freely express their ideas while respecting the law.

Rise of populist movements a concern

There are growing concerns over Islamophobia, xenophobia and other sorts of discrimination in Europe, including France. What’s France doing to avoid tension against the other, particularly on the eve of key elections next year? 

The rise of populist movements in Europe is concerning. The French government is combating them with determination, and ensuring respect for the principles and values of our republic, which, in particular, does not tolerate any discrimination on the basis of origin, nationality or religion.

In recent months, the French people have suffered unprecedented trials. They have shown their unity and commitment to the founding values of our nation, as expressed by our motto: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” Our government is, for its part, doing its utmost to prevent generalizations and confusions. We will contain these tensions by strengthening intercultural and interreligious dialogue, in which all civil society, religious, state and nongovernmental actors need to take part. I am deeply convinced that France draws its strength from the values of openness and freedom that are central to its identity.

France, Turkey share priorities in Syria 

How would you assess the point the international community has arrived in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)?

France and Turkey are members of the global coalition against Daesh [ISIL]. They share the same priority: doing everything possible to foster the region’s stabilization. The efforts of the coalition countries have helped push back Daesh on all fronts. In Iraq, the launch of the Mosul offensive has already achieved rapid progress on the ground toward the city’s liberation. I organized a meeting in Paris on Oct. 20 to discuss all aspects of this battle which is decisive for the future of Iraq and the region as a whole, with more than 20 countries and international organizations present. Turkey was naturally invited, and played a full role in the discussions. In Syria, Daesh is losing ground on a daily basis. Operation Euphrates Shield, supporting Free Syrian Army fighters, is helping.

France and Turkey share the same priorities as regards Syria: the urgency of stopping bombardments by the Assad regime and its backers, including in Aleppo; humanitarian access; and the resumption of negotiations in view of a political transition based on the Geneva Communiqué and U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254.

Turkey’s road to EU is very long 

How would you regard the bilateral aspect of our ties? Why is France seemingly not very willing to support Turkey’s EU membership? 

I’m not going to go back as far as Francis I and Süleyman the Magnificent, but the ties between our two countries are strong, diverse and anchored in a deeply held friendship. They are currently enshrined in a strategic partnership established during the state visit of the French president in January 2014, when the key areas of cooperation were set down. My visit will help set down new concrete objectives for each of these areas for the period 2017-2019.

Our cooperation naturally extends to the fight against Daesh, including against foreign combatants.

But our bilateral agenda is not dominated solely by crises and threats! Together, we are looking to the future with structural projects, particularly in the fields of transport, energy and agriculture. We are also key economic and trade partners, in very diverse sectors, and these exchanges can be further strengthened.

As regards the relationship with the European Union, the road is indeed very long, I admit. However, this process also needs to help support Turkey’s development, modernization and democratization.