Sofia View: Bridges between France and Turkey

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Is Turkey likely to mend ties with France, now that Francois Hollande has been installed in the Elysee? This is the question that has been keeping many a Turkey watcher busy for the past few months. Yesterday on a visit to Paris Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s heavy-duty foreign minister, commended his hosts for having abandoned a law criminalising the denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide (or mass killing, depending on which side of the dispute you sit).  The law was struck down last February by the country’s Constitutional Council as infringing the freedom of speech. Now Laurent Fabius seems to be saying that the Socialists who voted in favour of the law are not going to bring it back to life.

Hollande came to office trying to play down the Turkey issue by pointing out, rightly, that membership would not be on the cards in the coming five years of his term. Fabius, for his part, said that the question will be decided, ultimately, by a referendum once accession talks are wrapped up. This position of not taking a clear position is understandable. Given the enormous challenge the euro crisis poses on a daily basis, Turkey’s accession negotiations are not a top priority.  However, on balance, his arrival has encouraged the European Commission to press ahead with a new initiative to speed up the process of aligning Turkish legislation with that of the EU – the so-called Positive Agenda. What’s more, last week Turkey and the EU initialed a Readmission Agreement. Ankara hopes to link the agreement, which is of key importance for the EU effort to curb illegal migration across the Greek-Turkish border, to a roadmap leading to the removal of Schengen visas for its citizens.

But whether we are heading to a genuine rapprochement between France and Turkey will, at the end of the day, depend on whether Paris lifts its veto over five negotiating chapters imposed unilaterally back in 2007. The turn towards bonhomie in bilateral relations after a period of outward hostility while Sarkozy was in power is, no doubt, good news for Europe, especially in times when Syria is causing such headache in both EU capitals and Ankara. But do not bank on it – it might have its expiry date too.

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