How Hollande could help Turkey’s EU bid

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

François Hollande's choice of Laurent Fabius as foreign minister and Bernard Cazeneuve as European affairs minister suggests that he has little appetite for further enlargement of the EU, argue Can Selçuki and Eldar Mamedov.

Can Selçuki is a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels and Eldar Mamedov is a political advisor to the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament. This opinion was first published by Hurriyet Daily News.

"If there is a foreign country with a good reason to celebrate François Hollande's election as French president, it is Turkey. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy did not believe that Turkey belonged to Europe culturally and geographically.

That led France to block five chapters in the EU accession negotiations, which are relevant to Turkey's EU membership. Would Hollande bring change in his country's relations with Turkey, both bilaterally and in the context of the EU enlargement?

At first sight, such a question might seem awkward in light of the challenges that Hollande already faces with the severe economic downturn in the eurozone. Hollande's choice of Laurent Fabius as the minister of foreign affairs and Bernard Cazeneuve as the minister for European affairs suggests little appetite for further enlargement of the EU.

It would also be foolish to expect France (and other EU member states) to drop the condition that Turkey recognise the Republic of Cyprus. There are also traditional irritants in bilateral relations, such as the Armenian issue.

There is one area, however, where Hollande can make a crucial difference. By eschewing the acrimonious debate on religious and cultural compatibility of Turkey with the EU and focusing instead on reforms that Turkey needs to join the EU, he can help to restore the credibility of the EU accession process. And with credibility comes the leverage: if Turkey perceives that it is treated fairly and has a realistic chance of joining the EU, it would be easier for the EU to push for the agenda needed to that end.

Concerns are growing in Turkey and among its European friends about the lack of progress on reforms and even backslide in some areas, such as free speech, rule of law and women's rights. The ruling conservative Justice and Development Party, or AKP, unrestrained by internal checks and balances, feels increasingly tempted to consolidate its grip on the institutions at the expense of deepening democracy.

The revitalisation of the EU negotiations could provide a much needed external anchor for reform and check what many see as the AKP's creeping authoritarianism. 

This offers a historic opportunity for Turkey's main opposition People's Republican Party, or CHP, to reposition itself as Turkey's main pro-European party. Indeed, Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu has tried this by improving CHP's relations with its political family, European social democracy, which were seriously impaired due to his predecessor's often nationalistic politics.

The CHP has shown new interest in engaging in debate on the issues of common interest for European progressive forces, from economic and social crisis to the future of the Arab Spring.

But more can and needs to be done. By reclaiming the European project, the CHP would increase the pressure to reform on the incumbent AKP and give more ammunition to the supporters of Turkey's EU bid in European capitals. It would enable the CHP to capitalise on its links with the European social democracy and put it in a better position to convince the French Socialists to unblock the five chapters in the accession process vetoed by Sarkozy.

By approaching the EU issue strategically, the CHP should not get bogged down by disagreements over issues like Cyprus or Armenia, or occasional praise that the EU officials heap on the ruling AKP. The election of Hollande as the president of France will not lead to a fast-track towards the EU membership, but it expands the "breathing space" for Turkey's pro-European forces.

As the AKP loses interest in further reform, the CHP is well advised to claim the role of the most pro-European party in Turkey. This will be right for the CHP and for Turkey's future as a democratic, secular and modern Republic."

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