Turkish officials offer France olive branch

Turkish officials offer France olive branch

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish officials offer France olive branch

Turkey seeks a new era with France after the election of Hollande. REUTERS photo

Turkey and France, the sparring partners of Europe, are making tentative moves to mend their ruined ties, just days after Socialist François Hollande was elected as the new French President. However, more time is needed for a full recovery, according to Turkish government officials. 

“We have sincerely expressed our will and intention to fix our ties with France. This is not only important in terms of bilateral relations but also with regard to a number of international and regional issues of our common interest,” a senior Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News Friday. 

Turkey has taken the first step and offered a hand of friendship to the newly elected French President François Hollande, aiming to break the ice with Europe’s new heavyweight. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made a phone call to Hollande to congratulate him on his electoral success, which followed a carefully-crafted congratulatory letter sent by President Abdullah Gül. 

Erdoğan telephoned Hollande late Thursday and the two talked for 12 minutes, in what was “quite a good conversation about a new era” in bilateral relations, an official from the prime minister’s office told the Hürriyet Daily News. 

Relations between Turkey and France, whose diplomatic relations date back to the 16th century, hit rock bottom during outgoing Nicholas Sarkozy’s presidency due to the former French president’s non-negotiable policies against Turkish membership of the European Union and insistence on passing the bill penalizing denial of Armenian genocide. Though Sarkozy’s move on the latter has since been annulled by the French Constitutional Council, political and military sanctions imposed by Turkey against France are still in effect. 

However, with the election of a Socialist President whose party delivers moderate messages regarding Turkey’s joining of the EU, the Turkish government has decided to lead the rapprochement process. 
France is among the countries on which Turkey places the utmost importance, Erdoğan has stressed, voicing his hope that the deep-rooted Turkish-French relations would “get rid of artificial problems that do not befit this common past,” the official said. Erdoğan also wished Hollande’s party success in the parliamentary elections next month.

Hollande responded that he too values relations with Turkey - a country he has praised for its growing economy - and stressed that the two countries share a common position on many international issues, according to the official. However he did not go into specific issues and did not drop any hint on whether or not France would soften its objections to opening new chapters in Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union.

In a letter to Hollande earlier this week, President Abdullah Gül congratulated France’s president-elect, also expressing his hope that bilateral ties would gain a new momentum during his presidency and that the two countries would create a “strong Europe” together. “Turkey is ready to hold close cooperation during your presidency,” said Gül in his letter.

Gül and Hollande are expected to meet in Chicago, if only briefly, on the margins of the NATO Summit slated for May 20-21. 

Armenian genocide still a problem 

Although there are hopes for repaired ties, there are still potential risks that could prevent the reconciliation process. Hollande, like Sarkozy, promised his French Armenian electorate that he would penalize denial of Armenian genocide during the election campaign. Given the fact that Hollande’s Socialist Party will run for parliamentary elections in mid-June, similar tension between two countries could resurface. This is why Turkey’s Ambassador to Paris, Tahsin Burcuoğlu, has publicly urged the French leadership not to bring the issue back to the agenda if they value relations with Turkey.