France remains hugely concerned by visa liberalisation on Turkey, as deal exposes Franco-German fractures
Ankara’s demands last week at the European Council took most EU member states by surprise, the French included.
A major outcry in most newspapers followed, honing in on the legality and morality of the controversial draft deal negotiated between Ankara, Berlin and Brussels. But in diplomatic and political circles, the reaction is less about laws and morals. Ankara is also demanding an additional €6 billion from the EU, as well as visa-free access to Europe's Schengen zone for its citizens, and above all a renewed effort on its bid to join the European Union. Paris is especially wary of the visa liberalisation part of the agreement, as the Turks don’t currently meet these particular requirements, and Paris stresses the need for Turkey to abide by the already established conditions before any liberalisation can take place.
The EU-Turkey deal has spurred major discussions in the context of the upcoming primary of Les Républicains, as Bruno Le Maire and Nicolas Sarkozy have already spoken out against the acceleration of Ankara’s membership process. On the left, voices from the Greens and the Socialist Party have denounced the potential human rights violations that this deal might paper over.
The draft deal, regardless of whether it is endorsed by the European Council coming up on 17-18 March, further confirms the growing distance between Paris and Berlin’s visions of how to manage the refugee crisis. This gap stems from Paris having sat out most of the public debate on the issue since Berlin announced their policy last summer. As a consequence, France was not part of the discussions between Germany and Turkey before the last European Council meeting. France seems to realise only now that it may have to pay a hefty price for having let Germany alone draw a path that isn’t being followed elsewhere in Europe.
There is a growing concern in Paris that Chancellor Merkel’s bet on Turkey, which materialised in a one-on-one meeting with PM Davutoğlu before the 7 March meeting, is undermining an already weakened Franco-German engine, and jamming even more a tentative European cohesion on the refugee crisis. Paris has de facto been marginalised in previous discussions. Before, it put up with this marginalisation, believing that Ankara would not deliver on its part of the deal. But the latest episode seems to have changed this approach.
A few weeks ago, the PM Manuel Valls made headlines by vehemently condemning Berlin’s policy from Munich. Last week, his predecessor and now minister for foreign affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault took the completely opposite view and came out supporting Angela Merkel’s policy of welcoming refugees, both from a moral and political point of view. Those statements seem to indicate that there’s at least a discussion on how best to handle the refugee crisis and the relationship with Germany on that topic. The stance taken by president Hollande at the next European Council meeting will be read also in this context.
In the context of a Union facing the refugee crisis, sluggish growth and a substantive rise of populism, François Hollande hosted last Saturday several EU social democrat leaders who called for a new roadmap for the European project. Indeed, he warned that Europe was threatened with "obliteration", not just "disappearance" or "dislocation", if it failed to address the "economic and social emergency" engulfing the bloc. Those attending the gathering included German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini was invited too, alongside Commissioner Pierre Moscovici and the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, who urged the EU to find a solution for the distribution of the considerable influx of migrants. In this context, President Hollande reiterated his warnings against concessions for Turkey in exchange of its cooperation on the refugee crisis. But, more broadly he insisted upon stepping up the protection of external borders as a security and humanitarian response to the hundreds of people currently drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.