10 May 2012
by Menekşe Tokyay, SES Türkiye
With Sarkozy gone, Turkey-France relations have a chance to improve.
With the victory of socialist Francois Hollande over incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday's presidential elections, there are expectations that a new page could open in Turkey's troubled relationship with the France -- and hence the EU.
Under Hollande, who staked his election bid on an anti-austerity platform, analysts expect France to adopt a friendlier stance towards Turkey, as the new president struggles with the urgency of the eurozone crisis and domestic reforms.
Commenting on the election results during an official visit to the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, on Monday (May 7th), Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan aknowledged that dialogue with the Socialists would be easier because they have traditionally supported Turkey's EU bid.
"Following the election of Francois Hollande, the Turkish government now hopes that relations between Paris and Ankara can be more constructive and that talks on Turkey's rapprochement with the EU will progress," the prime minister was quoted as saying by Slovenian news agency STA.
Relations between Ankara and Paris deteriorated sharply during Sarkozy's presidency as his anti-Turkey populism was often perceived as anti-Muslim in Turkey. When a Sarkozy-backed draft Armenian genocide bill was passed earlier this year by the lower and upper houses of the French Parliament, relations hit new lows.
The draft bill, which many in Ankara considered as pre-election posturing to attract the Armenia diaspora vote, was ultimately ruled unconstitutional, but the episode caused severe damage to bilateral relations.
Hollande has promised to repair ties with Turkey. The Socialist's promise to lift France's 2007 veto over five blocked EU chapters that could bring Turkey closer to the EU is likely to win them fans in Ankara.
But as Didier Billion, a Turkey expert from the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations, notes, Hollande has close links with the Armenian political party Dashnaktsutyun.
"Francois Hollande intends to make the genocide bill constitutional, and this is not pre-election posturing, but rather a position of principle," Billion told SES Türkiye.
As a result, Billion says that as long as the genocide bill issue is on the agenda, relations would remain tense, despite the more open policy towards Turkey's EU accession.
Cengiz Aktar, an EU expert from Istanbul's Bahcesehir University, says the socialists should reformulate French policy concerning the genocide issue, especially since Dashnaktsutyun doesn't represent all Armenians living in France.
When formulating French policy on the genocide issue, the socialists should "consider all possible political and economic repercussions," he warns.
As Europe struggles to contain the eurozone crisis and create growth, economics and trade interests may ultimately trump the genocide issue, while a French government supportive of Turkey's EU bid could help to smooth over past differences.
"Economic relations between the two countries generate jobs in France. As a rapidly growing G20 economy, Turkey has a significant trade deficit vis-à-vis France and French companies operating in Turkey have always been profitable, even in times of global crisis," Bahadir Kaleagasi, the international co-ordinator and European representative of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD), told SES Türkiye.
Kaleagasi also says that deeper co-operation between Paris and Ankara could "reactivate the EU's transformational power on Turkey" in the field of democratic reforms. "Therefore, a new era of win-win-win is possible for France, Turkey and the EU," he said.
For Ozdem Sanberk, a veteran Turkish diplomat, Turkey needs to work wıth France on establishing a common vision for Europe -- something which he says is currently lacking -- rather than limiting relations to narrow issues at the bilateral level.
"Such a convergent strategic vision will create a broad area of interests for the both countries to interact, and as long as this space does not narrow, any challenges concerning the Armenian issue will take only a limited and small space within it," he told SES Türkiye.
"As long as these two countries opt for a global vision for their relations, this subject will not have any great capability to shape and determine the path of the relations," he concluded.