New president for France; new opportunity for Turkey?

May 07, 2012, Monday/ 15:43:00

The election of François Hollande to the French presidency creates a new window of opportunity to re-energize Turkey's stalled European Union membership negotiations.

It could even lead to the reversal of France's veto on the opening of new chapters in talks regarding Turkey's accession. As of the present time, only 13 of the 35 chapters have been opened, with no further progress since 2010. France has specifically blocked chapters relating to budgetary policy, institutions, regional policy, agricultural and rural development as well as economic and monetary policy. Therefore, the prospect of having a more pragmatic French president has resulted in Ankara beginning to work on a number of currently blocked chapters such as monetary policy. This new optimism stems from a belief that although Hollande has said there would be no Turkish accession during the next five-year presidential term, he has been far less adamant against Turkey's membership than Mr. Sarkozy.

In fact, Mr. Hollande has been relatively quiet on the subject of Turkey's EU bid as well as the Armenian genocide resolution, which was considered by many to be a politically motivated effort by Sarkozy aimed at a target that is already a favorite scapegoat of the French. Readers should keep in mind that the real problem for Turkey was not Sarkozy the man, but rather the French mindset that has long been biased against Turks. The majority of the French people (at least those with any political influence) believe that Turkey's EU membership will create more problems than benefits for member states. Although Sarkozy did his best to manipulate these feelings to his advantage, this obviously didn't win him any measurable support as it was already an entrenched belief. Therefore, even with the relatively anti-Turkish-rhetoric-free Hollande, don't count on EU membership for Turkey in the near future.

A brief examination of the personal life of François Hollande reveals a man with a contemporary way of thinking who understands how to achieve a stable relationship without the need for written contractual agreements. Hopefully, a parallel with his personal life will be made in terms of his relationship with Turkey. Hollande lived with fellow Socialist Party politician Ségolène Royal for over thirty years and fathered four children with her. This may be considered a relationship far superior and long-lasting than many formal marriages these days. He is now in a relationship with Valérie Trierweiler, a French journalist he met while he was still with Ms. Royal. This indicates a man with “relational flexibility.”

What can be extrapolated from this? The more common pattern is that a man or woman married for many years with children meets someone new, falls in love, divorces spouse number one, and marries new love. Alternatively, a spouse falls out of love with husband/wife, divorces and then finds new love and marries. Still another typical path is not to formally marry number two, but to have a long-term, virtually permanent partnership that recognizes that formal documentation of the relationship is superfluous at this point in life. Mr. Hollande's relationships don't really fall into any of those categories. First a non-marriage with a political ally and second a relationship with someone who could perhaps give him good press. Therefore, Hollande has proven he is anything but common in his thinking. Pragmatic, yes; conventional, no. Whether it's his proposed “Millionaire Tax,” support for same-sex marriages (maybe he just thinks that marriage should just be for gay people and not heterosexuals), reducing the corporate income tax for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), or hiring tens of thousands of new teachers to be supervised by retired teachers, the new French president has demonstrated his open-mindedness. 

Who knows? Maybe this will include more innovative thinking with respect to Turkey's EU accession talks.

*Gary Lachman is an international lawyer formerly with the US Department of State, a real estate developer, an adjunct associate professor at Koç University, and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University with a consulting practice in İstanbul. He can be contacted at [email protected]. (c) Gary Lachman 2012