Franco-Turkish Détente Sarkozy Will Not Block Accession Talks with Ankara

French President Nicolas Sarkozy remains skeptical of allowing Turkey into the European Union. But he is not willing to let this opposition get in the way of his plan to find an agreement to replace the moribund EU constitution. Now, he has agreed to support further EU negotiations with Ankara.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is not going to block acession talks with Turkey -- just yet.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is not going to block acession talks with Turkey -- just yet.

Turkey may be knocking at Europe's door, but its most recently elected leader is not predisposed to listen. But while new French President Nicolas Sarkozy still opposes the country's entry into the European Union, he is not going to block renewed accession talks with Ankara.

Sarkozy is determined to push through his vision of a slimmed-down European constitution and he doesn’t want the dispute over Turkish membership to get in the way.

According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, France will refrain from vetoing the German EU presidency's plans to reopen talks with Ankara on June 26. Turkey's bid for entry was effectively put on ice last December, when the EU suspended negotiations on eight of the 35 policy areas after Ankara refused to open its ports to EU member Cyprus.

Berlin is now planning to secure the opening of three new chapters covering the areas of statistics, financial control and economic and monetary policy.

Sarkozy has repeatedly expressed his opposition to Turkish EU membership -- unlike his predecessor Jacques Chirac. As far as he is concerned, geographically Turkey doesn't belong in Europe, but in Asia. After his election on May 6, the Turkish newspaper Vatan called him the "greatest opponent of Turkey in Europe."

But it looks as if his antipathy to Turkish membership is not strong enough to push him into a row over the matter within the EU. Instead he plans to hold his fire until the EU's end-of-year summit, which will broach the wider issue of enlargement. "The real rendez-vous (on Turkey) will be in December 2007," Sarkozy told reporters in Brussels last week. He said the priority now was to "break the institutional blockage." Sarkozy envisages a simplified treaty, to replace the stillborn constitution, which was rejected in referenda in both France and the Netherlands in 2005.

Meanwhile Sarkozy is determined to improve relations with Turkey. Last weekend he sent his chief international advisor, Jean-David Livette to Ankara. The envoy met with officials at the Turkish foreign ministry and the office of the prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to Le Figaro, the purpose of the trip was to ease tensions between the two countries. "Since the Turkish candidacy for the EU is one of the important aspects of those relations, it was also discussed," an unnamed French diplomat told AFP after the trip.

Another reason for France's decision to ease off, is that Turkey is in the midst of an election campaign and Paris does not want to influence the July elections or Turkish domestic policy.

The EU Enlargement Commissioner Oli Rhen has welcomed Sarkozy's decision not to block the accession talks. In an interview with Le Figaro, published Wednesday, he said: "The European Union should continue to help the development of democracy in Turkey. The final decision on the accession of that country should not be made until the very end of the process."

After Sarkozy's victory Erdogan expressed the hope that "from now on we do not see the same statements that Sarkozy has made in election meetings." And the Turkish premier called Sarkozy to congratulate him on his election and to suggest that they deal with one another directly and not through the media.

After Levitte's trip a French diplomat in Ankara told Reuters: "The fact that the visit took place so soon after that phone conversation shows how much importance France attaches to maintaining a direct dialogue and to Franco-Turkish relations."

And the overture to Turkey seems to have worked: In an interview with NTV televison on Tuesday Erdogan said: "relations are not negative as assumed. And they will improve because France is one of the top investors in Turkey and 500,000 of our citizens live in France."

But this new Franco-Turkish détente may not last long. In the long term, Sarkozy's preference is to include Turkey in a Mediterranean Union. And the creation of such a union could well be on the agenda for France's presidency of the EU in the second half of 2008. But it is a proposal categorically rejected by Ankara.



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