Sarkozy spells out ‘red lines’ on Turkey trip

Sarkozy Turkey.jpg

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Ankara on Friday (25 February) confirmed opposition to Turkey's EU accession bid and, combined with Germany's resistance, appeared to indicate that the country's relations with the EU have hit an all-time low.

Turkey made no secret of its disappointment with Sarkozy's five-hour visit, described as "offensive" by the Turkish press due to its short length and the messages delivered.

In Ankara, Sarkozy spelt out France's "red lines" in the debate over Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

"I think that it is better to talk things through now rather than to one day reach a dead end," said Sarkozy at a joint press conference with Turkey's President Abdullah Gül. "All countries have red lines. All countries have a public. Discussion is needed to reach an agreement. We will continue to seek ways for the future."

"I have always considered […] that there is a way between an accession perspective and cancelling any kind of discussion to bring closer together Turkey, a huge country, and the European Union," Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy's visit to Turkey was the first since his election in 2007 and the first visit by a French president in 19 years.

Sarkozy also met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. At the insistence of Paris, the talks focused on the French Presidency of the G20, of which Turkey is a member, and French proposals to reshape the world economic order ahead of a summit this autumn in Cannes.

Chewing gum tit-for-tat

Many press reports focused on Sarkozy reportedly having chewed gum upon arrival at the airport, which in Turkish eyes is seen as outright offensive to the country.

Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, a colourful figure in Turkey, responded by chewing gum himself when he was at the airport once again to see Sarkozy off just a few hours after his arrival.

According to the daily Zaman, this was not the first time Sarkozy had angered Turkish officials by chewing gum. He reportedly had gum in his mouth when he greeted President Gül in Paris in 2009.

'Yes to integration, no to assimilation'

On a visit to Germany, where he is to join German Chancellor Angela Merkel today (28 February) for the inauguration of the CeBit information technology fair in Hanover, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an accused Merkel of opposing his country's EU membership aspirations in order to score political points with German voters.

Erdo?an told the daily Rheinische Post that he believed EU accession talks were "being delayed for purely political reasons".

Speaking on Sunday to a crowd of 10,000 mainly Turkish residents living in Germany, Erdo?an appeared to hit back at Merkel's recent criticism of what she saw as a failure by the Turkish community to integrate into German society.

Last October, Merkel said that Germany's attempt to create a multicultural society had "utterly failed". She said allowing people of different cultural backgrounds to live side-by-side without integrating had not worked in a country that is home to some four million Muslims. Most of them are Turks who immigrated in the sixties and seventies as "guest workers".

"I say yes to integration. We must integrate into society," Erdo?an is quoted by Deutsche Welle as saying, before adding: "No-one should be able to rip us away from our culture. Our children must learn German but, first, they must learn Turkish."

But German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle contradicted Erdo?an, DPA reported.

“Children growing up in Germany must learn German first and foremost,” Westerwelle said. Otherwise he said they would be disadvantaged at school and have worse chances later in life.

“'The German language is the key to integration for those growing up in Germany,” the foreign minister stressed.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, speaking ahead of a visit to Germany on Sunday, once again rejected calls for a privileged partnership between Turkey and the European Union and urged the German government to take the lead in supporting Turkish membership of the 27-nation bloc, Turkish daily Zaman wrote.

Erdo?an dismissed calls for a privileged partnership, saying it had been created for domestic political purposes and was aimed at pleasing domestic voters. "Privileged partnership is not part of EU terminology. The purpose of the talks is membership," Erdo?an said in remarks published on Saturday.

"The expectation of the Turkish population is that Germany […] will take up a lead role in EU membership negotiations with Turkey," Erdo?an told the Rheinische Post.

Commenting ahead of Sarkozy's visit to Turkey, Sinan Ülgen, a former diplomat, visiting scholar with Carnegie Europe in Brussels and president of Turkish think-tank EDAM in Istanbul, saw in the revolutions taking place throughout the Mediterranean a chance to relaunch EU-Turkey relations.

"The current restructuring of the political and social fields in the region will necessitate a reconfiguration of European initiatives with partners on the southern coast of the Mediterranean. The policies undertaken up to now, whether the Barcelona Process or the Union for the Mediterranean, have never been able to break through.

"Turkey emerges as a critical partner in this effort. In its quest for influence and prestige on the world stage, Ankara should amply benefit from the current events so as to consolidate its presence in the region, as much from the political as the diplomatic point of view. Turkey is perceived to be a potential model for these countries that are apparently in transition; so many assets that the EU should not obstruct," Ülgen writes (see full text in English and original text in French).

Commenting on Sarkozy's visit and the cold stance adopted by Ankara, which had earlier expressed disappointment with Sarkozy's failure to visit Turkey in his capacity as French president, Kür?at Bumin from the daily Yeni ?afak quotes main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu as saying that Ankara was right to adopt a cold stance during the visit and that he wished Sarkozy had visited Turkey with the title of the president of France.

"This is a nice hope. But there is something that makes this hope impossible. While expressing his well-known opinions regarding Turkey's EU membership, Sarkozy was appealing to the far-right voters in his country rather than his addressees in Ankara. That was like an election speech for the 2012 presidential elections to be held in France. We know that the French right this time will really have a hard time in the 2012 elections," Bumin says, quoted by Zaman.

Of a similar opinion to Bumin, Taraf daily columnist Ahmet Altan said Sarkozy had been pursuing a policy to garner the votes of a few racists in his country, but that he would be the loser in the end.

"In the end, he will watch Turkey's accession to the EU from a deserted beach in his oversized shorts," Altan said.

Stating that neither Turkey nor the EU would shape its policy according to Sarkozy, Altan underlined that Turkey should be self-critical and attempt to be a transparent state on its own. "If we can establish a system that protects our citizens, if we can make our state transparent and make 'humans' more important than any other thing, why would we need Europe?" he asked.

Since EU-Turkey accession talks began in October 2005, 13 of the 35 negotiating chapters have been opened, and only one has been provisionally closed (see table).

Eighteen chapters are frozen due to vetoes by Cyprus, France or the European Union as a whole, with only three chapters remaining on the table – competition policy, social policy and employment, and public procurement.

The reform drive has also been waning in Turkey as a result of the increasingly critical stance of key players like France and Germany.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is staunchly opposed to Turkey's EU membership and is said to consider the decision by his predecessor Jacques Chirac to grant agreement for opening accession negotiations with Ankara as a major mistake.

For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently lamented the poor integration of immigrant workers in her country, the majority of whom are of Turkish origin, saying that Germany's attempt to create a multicultural society had "utterly failed".

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