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May 11, 2012, Friday

Sarkozy and his four losses against Turkey

There is no question that, for a politician like Nicolas Sarkozy, who despite coming from nothing has always managed to look on from above with a smirk on his face, losing the election caused great pain. But what no doubt magnified this pain even more for Sarkozy was losing to the Socialist Party’s second choice, Francois Hollande, whom Sarkozy never really took seriously.

Sarkozy’s defeat bodes different things for his political career, French politics in general and a Europe engulfed in crisis. Even though it is not yet clear what Hollande’s victory will bring, the fact that Sarkozy -- who engaged in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim politics -- lost is meaningful for European values. Now, of course, in order for Hollande to really leave an imprint on France, his party must be successful in the upcoming June parliamentary elections.

News of Sarkozy’s defeat -- making him the 11th European leader to lose his seat due to the ongoing financial crisis -- put economic circles on immediate alert. That’s because this defeat means a serious blow to the France-Germany axis of belt-tightening policies implemented recently in Europe in regard to the financial crisis. The new government promises to lower the age of retirement from 62 to 60, plans to increase the employment rate through the hiring of more government clerks and plots to tax 75 percent those earning more than 1 million euros annually. At the same time news of Hollande’s victory came in, news of the shattering defeat of center-right and left parties in Greece that had been implementing strict belt-tightening policies there also came in; add to this electoral losses for Angela Merkel and her partners in Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein state, and it all means bad news for the entire French-German axis.

Meanwhile, we in Turkey, who have almost miraculously remained unshaken by the crisis in Europe, watched the defeat of Sarkozy almost as though it was a national duel between us and the French leader. As is well known, since the day he took over at Paris’ Elysee Palace, Sarkozy has held strong and open anti-Turkey policies.

Over the course of his five years in office, Sarkozy carried out four different political maneuvers against Turkey. The first was to call for a special commission with the job of drawing the borders of Europe, thereby shedding some light on the possible expansion of the EU. The real goal here was to show that Turkey was neither geographically nor culturally speaking part of Europe.

However, a 2010 report published by this committee, a committee formed at the insistence of France, underscored that the concept of “European borders” was defined not by geography, but rather by values. The report found the EU must respect the promises made to all candidate member countries, and that the accession processes should continue. The decision was like a slap in Sarkozy’s face.

The second move by Sarkozy, who was unsuccessful in branding Turkey as not belonging to Europe, was to block a full five of the 35 different accession talk chapters between Turkey and the EU. He was not technically able to bring the accession process to an end, as a joint vote by the 27 EU member countries would have been necessary for this, but this tactic was successful at slowing the talks to nearly a standstill. Perhaps the real aim was to force Turkey to push away from the table. But this move also really did nothing but increase antipathy toward France.

The third maneuver was to try and pass a bill through the French parliament that would bring fines as well as prison sentences to those who would deny the Armenian genocide. But this step by Sarkozy was also frozen in its tracks when the Constitutional Council found the bill to be contrary to the constitution.

Will Hollande at the helm of Paris mean that all of Turkey’s problems will suddenly disappear? Well, the two leaders (Sarkozy and Hollande) do have parallel views on the Armenian issue. But now, extra efforts on this front do have to take into account the French Constitutional Council. And keeping in mind the general economic crisis and a negative pubic opinion, it would not be realistic to expect Hollande to be an enthusiastic supporter of Turkey on the EU accession front. Though, it is clear already that he won’t be quite the enemy that Sarkozy was. And this could reflect positively on the accession process.

In this new period before us, even just leaving behind the hostile approaches and rudenesses that don’t suit standard diplomatic courtesies will be a great victory. And so I congratulate the French voters, who despite all of the various negativities of the times, did not credit the extreme right-wing rhetoric out there. Both France and Europe will be much better off without Sarkozy and other populist leaders of his ilk.

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