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CENGİZ AKTAR

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CENGİZ AKTAR
May 09, 2012, Wednesday

Turkish-French relations after Sarkozy

Former President Sarkozy was the least liked leader of the Fifth French Republic since 1958. There were many reasons for people to hate him. In addition to his arrogant, offensive, sarcastic personality and extremely personalized management style, Sarkozy was never successful in any of the issues that required reform. In Western European countries like France, the tradition of the welfare state has encountered difficulties in adapting to globalization. Everybody agrees that there is need for a thorough overhaul of the administration of health, retirement, education, immigration, the environment and the economy and for new vision and policies in all these fields. However, diagnosis is different from offering proper and workable policies. Sarkozy has shattered the existing systems but failed to build new ones. He shook the foundations of the major institutions but failed to renew them. As he left his initiatives unfinished, domestic and international opposition to his style grew further.

 

The decisions of this politician during his five-year term as president, as a minister since March 2004 and chairman of his party have been detrimental to France's relations with immigrants, the Muslim world, the southern Mediterranean, Africa and Turkey. Sarkozy has relentlessly taken steps that have caused these relations to deteriorate and offended people. The French Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Codevelopment that he set up was the next step in the racist and discriminatory policies he pursued as minister of interior. The search for a new identity based on blood for the French, who are actually bonded by territoriality and sense of belonging to the republic rather than race, inevitably failed. But that strongly disturbed social harmony. Reference by Sarkozy -- who is of Ottoman Jew and Hungarian descent -- to national identity was an irony in itself.

His supporting statements for a law adopted in 2005 referring to the benefits of France's colonial past, his arrogant remarks in Senegal, constant hatred against Islam and Turkey and the unethical policies that his administration has pursued and implemented vis-à-vis immigrants, refugees and non-white EU citizens will not be forgotten. To this end, his successor, François Hollande, has a lot to do to address these problems and restore France's international image.

Turkey will have a crucial place during the process of healing. Sarkozy has adopted a strong stance of opposition vis-à-vis Turkey's EU bid; by this attitude, he provoked the anti-Islamic and xenophobic elements within society that were otherwise unaware of Turkey's EU candidacy. His opposition to it's membership bid was unique in Turkey's half-century old relationship with the EU. However, this hostility has not been limited to Turkey's relations with the EU. Through his opposition he fed the discussion on national identity in France; on the other hand, his policy contributed to the deterioration of centuries-old bilateral relations between the two countries as well. More recently, when he pushed a bill regarding the criminalization of the denial of genocides recognized by France, the deterioration of bilateral relations sunk to a new low.

But there is a structural problem behind Sarkozy's attitude towards Turkey: France's Turkey policy is still unable to go beyond the orientalist approach and to consider Turkey as a partner. And the new president is no exception. His rather bleak answers to the questions put to him on Turkey's EU membership by the weekly Nouvel Observateur suggest that Hollande is not immune from the lack of a proper Turkey policy. Indeed he says Turkey is not ready for membership and that it would not fulfill the membership criteria during his presidential term. Breaking news!

Socialists are not opposed to Turkey's EU membership. Sarkozy's decision in 2007 to veto the opening of five negotiation chapters that pertain to full membership could be reversed. But this is the normal thing to do; what Sarkozy did was abnormal. Socialists need to go beyond this neutral stance and create the mental and physical infrastructure for partnership with Turkey. What do Turkey's democratic transformation, its EU membership and its growing role in the Middle East -- particularly in the aftermath of the Arab Spring -- mean for France, which is experiencing extreme difficulties in its relations with Islam? Answers to these questions will determine France's future policy towards Turkey. Only after then will a new era of genuine partnership, both at a multilateral and a bilateral level, begin.

Leading socialists such as Martine Aubry and Pierre Moscovici as well as bureaucrats like the current EU representative in Ankara, Jean-Maurice Ripert, and Jean-Michel Casa, are largely skilled and accomplished enough to develop France's new Turkey policy.

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