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Chirac’s mixed legayc on Turkey 14 mars 2007

Posted by Acturca in France, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Turkish Daily News

March 13, 2007 Tuesday

Jacques Chirac, the president of France, announced on Sunday he would not seek re-election and, thus, would retire after 45 years on the frontline of politics.

His record as a « flip-flopping politician » – excepting his consistence on speaking against the Iraq war – is perhaps most vividly seen in the case of Turkey’s accession to the European Union.

A master pragmatist, Chirac did not visit Turkey even once during his 11-year presidency. Yes, he was here in Istanbul on June 28-29, 2004, for the NATO summit, but that would hardly count as a visit, which shows the importance he gives to Turkey. What’s more, many would doubt that he would want to be at the NATO summit at all. Turkish journalists would remember him as a master of the podium at that visit: After many standard press conferences, which led press corps in droves to the bar, Chirac had managed to gain command of a packed hall in a few minutes, joking about George W. Bush and such.

Chirac’s stance on Turkey should be viewed in two separate eras, said Emre Gonen, the European Studies Director of Istanbul’s Bilgi University. Before he became the president, Chirac, as the practical leader of the De Gaullist conservative right, embraced Charles De Gaulle’s wish to see Turkey as a part of Europe. « Of course, at that time Turkey’s membership to the European Union was a prospect that few people believed in, » said Gonen to the Turkish Daily News. « Thus Chirac contended to be the European politician that pleased Turkey. »

An extra criterion:

The closest Chirac came to Ankara was probably his visit to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, on Sept. 29 last year. However, what he said there hardly helped bilateral relations: Visiting the genocide memorial at Yerevan, he said Turkey « should recognize the genocide. » This demand practically came as an unpleasant addition to the Copenhagen Criteria, further cooling the relations between Turkey and the EU.

But it was the same Chirac that, until 2004, acted in a way that pleased Turkey on the Armenian question; he had declared in 2001 that he does not approve of the « genocide draft » that came to the French parliament. He hardly acted the same during last year’s « genocide draft » debate.

His position on Turkey’s membership to the EU was hardly different. In April 2004, he praised Turkey as a country, which has « historical links with Europe, is democratic and secular. » Europe would gain a lot with Turkish membership, » he said. Most importantly, « the myth of a clash of civilizations, which pitted the West against Islam, would end. » But at the same time, he noted that the accession talks would last « as very long time. »

On Dec. 15, the same year, he appeared on television and made a speech that supported Turkey’s membership to the union, but reminded all that any of the member states could veto such a membership and also that France « retains » the right to have the last word.

The new era:

The new era in Turkish-French relations actually started with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and Chirac becoming the president in 1995. « This coincided with Turkey’s completion of its customs union process, » noted Gonen. « And Chirac especially aimed to deepen Turkey’s economic integration with Europe. But he could not reach that goal. »

Actually, even at the moment we are very far away from that goal, Gonen added, « As the EU and Turkey get closer, conservative circles in Europe and in France have started to claim more vocally that Turkey does not belong to Europe. »

Thus, Chirac, having to abide by presidential impartiality while at the same time feeling the need to be the flag man of de Gaullist policies, retreated. « Still, when you look at other right-wing politicians in France, Chirac is among the very few who believe that Turkey belongs to the EU, » Gonen noted.

The Cyprus problem:

In 2005, Turkey saw a much more difficult Chirac. In August, the French President demanded that EU foreign ministers hold talks on Turkey’s position on Cyprus, saying that Turkey not recognizing the Greek Cypriot government as the legitimate government of Cyprus creates « political and legal problems. » This policy runs against the spirit expected from a candidate country, he stressed.

Chirac’s position generally reflected the mood in the French public, which is observed to be increasingly against Turkey’s EU membership. But then, what he said about Turkey’s importance for Europe pointed to the fact that he understood the country’s long-term strategic importance. Thus, we witnessed a « split » Chirac: split between his constituency and the long-term interests of the European Union.

Still, his position has never been as rigid as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who still advocates « privileged partnership » status for Turkey, instead of full membership.

A monumental failure:

Chirac’s failure on the European Union is not limited to Turkey, noted Gonen. « The European constitution, which he personally gave great support, was rejected by the French people. » Therein Chirac’s prospects of a third term in presidency ended for good.

Chirac has understood the importance of Turkey, but what about his successors? Gonen answers confidently: « All the leaders of France have understood the importance of that after they become president. No matter who succeeds Chirac, he/she will have to revise his/her views on Turkey. »

Nicolas Sarkozy’s position at the moment is not beneficial to Turkey, Gonen added, while Francois Bayrou is openly against Turkish membership. « Nobody knows what Segolene Royal thinks on the issue, » Gonen joked. « But they all have to be given a chance, as when one takes that seat one’s view of the world will have to change dramatically. »


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