Since 2007, relations between France and Turkey, and by extension those between the European Union and Turkey, have been marred by unfortunate events, inappropriate diplomatic gestures, and strong words from both sides. Vast opportunities have been neglected. Time has come to put things back in place, in an equitable and lucid manner. And in precise conditions.
1. Strategic stakes
In an uncertain world, with an Arab region in turmoil, with France and Europe looking for an economic boost, with Turkey hesitating on which direction to take, all these questions are opportunities towards a better defined strategic alliance between the EU and Turkey. Security, trade, economy, technology, innovation, and education fundamentals point to a clear situation: Turkey’s future is being built with Europe, while Europe can find in Turkey a strategic security partner, a competitive edge, and an expanding market. Notwithstanding recent theories to the contrary developed by the AKP, this trend is not reversing: the place of Turkey is with the EU (according to modalities still to be negotiated) and with NATO. Conversely, Europe’s growing interest is to see Turkey modernizing along Western values.
In the economic field, Europe and France have a major card in Turkey: to develop further industrial alliances resting on the existing Customs Union, implement integrated projects in sectors such as energy (including nuclear), armaments, aerospace, transport, and public services.
French and European manufacturing and service industries already have a strong presence in Turkey. Renault’s plant in Bursa helps the firm to remain a global player and to preserve jobs in France. The same goes for FIAT, Bosch or Valeo. Turkey is already an industrial partner of choice in EADS: Airbus 400M, A320 and A350, Eurocopter, and Astrium satellites. More is needed to face Boeing’s competition. In other fields, AXA, BNP-Paribas, and Carrefour are amongst the firms benefiting from the growth in the Turkish domestic market. Aéroports de Paris (an airport construction and management company) is the latest example of a strategic alliance at the global level with a Turkish firm. In other words, the corporate world has understood what political circles have refused to see until now.
France and the European Union have all the right tools to make such a relationship even more strategic and therefore keep this large and dynamic country of 74 million on a trajectory compatible with Europe’s fundamental interests.
2. The conditions for a reset
Perceptions in France, often more about politicking than making policy, are traditionally not favorable to Turkey. This needs to be discussed.
The issue of the Armenian genocide is read in a totally opposite way in the two countries. It is obvious that France is in no obligation to accept Turkey’s reading of History. Conversely, Turkey’s position will only evolve from within the country. Great nations should assume their past by themselves, at the price of courageous gestures. Who is better placed than François Hollande to explain why and how François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl one day stood together hand-in-hand at a joint commemoration? Who is better placed to explain his own gestures towards a historical reconciliation between France and Algeria? A discrete and confident dialogue between historians first, between politicians later, about the dark hours of history will help the two countries re-establish mutual confidence beyond electoral contingencies.
Running against its own decisions of 2004 and 2005, France more recently blocked part of the EU-Turkey negotiations. For bad reasons. First, it should be considered that this negotiation is strictly framed in a precise conditionality and subjected to 30 parliamentary ratifications: this is safe! Second, today’s question is not Turkey’s accession, not even the irreversible character of the negotiations. More fundamentally, this is about modernizing Turkey’s democracy, the direction in which Turkish society is heading and therefore European values’ influence in this process. Hence, it is high time for France to lift its unilateral block in four chapters of the EU-Turkey negotiations and to interact positively with Turkey and EU member states to move forward with other parts of the negotiation.
In so doing, the French public should be told that some of the scary themes recently used for purely political reasons are unfounded. No, there are no 100 million Turks ready to migrate to Europe (their prosperity is moving up faster than in the EU) but, yes, there are flows of irregular migrants from third countries that come through Turkey, an acute problem that Turkey will have to deal with in parallel with a visa liberalization process in the mutual interest. No, industrial and service jobs are not taken away by Turkey, but there is joint production within the same Customs Union, on the basis of European technology and with joint actions in third markets where Turkey has a good image.
The EU and France need the full cooperation of Turkey within the G20. Turkey’s economic reforms of 2000-2001, supplemented by the skillful policy of Vice-Prime Minister Ali Babacan are assets for Europe. France should take the initiative to have Prime Minister Erdoğan and Mr. Babacan at a forthcoming European Council meeting where economic and monetary issues are discussed. This will be another sign of a new strategic alliance with Turkey.
Beyond economic issues, the European Union and France should give a strong boost to programs in support of human rights, civil society, education and culture. Already now, 40,000 Turks participate each year in programs such as Erasmus and Leonardo. This should be expanded strong and fast, as these are the vectors of Europe’s moral and cultural influence.
3.Turkey should do its part
It goes without saying that Turkey has a good part of the road to travel in order to meet Europe.
First, reforms being discussed with the EU should be adopted, in particular the 4th Judicial Reform Package, press freedom should be reinstated at a level commensurate with Turkey's current standing (instead of taking refuge in plain denial), the readmission agreement for irregular migrants and cooperation with FRONTEX should be fully implemented, the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement should also be implemented.
Second, perhaps more importantly, Ankara should realize that the strong language in usage on the domestic political scene is not appropriate for relations with a European Union which Turkey says it wants to join. No, the EU has not perpetrated “crimes against humanity, nor “torture” through its visa policy! Europe’s problems are admittedly many, but they are not “mental” problems! And its annual Progress Report on Turkey does not deserve to be “thrown to the dust bin” by a Deputy from the governing party which repeatedly says it wants Turkey to join the EU. In short, Turkey should decide the tone with which it wants to deal with the EU, whether it is “with” or “against” the EU. European peoples also have their pride.
If preparations manage to assemble the above issues in a harmonious fashion, then, and then only, the State visit by President Hollande to Turkey in 2013 will result in a historical “reset” between France, the EU, and Turkey.
The real issue is “Where is Turkey going?” Short of showing a shared path, one should then be content to see Turkey taking refuge in more religious conservatism and verbal hostility to Europe and the West. Such an increased distance would not be neutral for France and Europe. In a historical perspective, it would be a major blunder.