Turkey: In French Election, Ankara Rooting for Sarkozy Rival
As the French presidential election heads into a run-off, it's probably not surprising that Ankara is quietly but emphatically rooting for Socialist candidate Francois Hollande to defeat the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. Under Sarkozy, Turkish-French relations have been extremely strained, with the French President expressing his strong opposition to Turkey's European Union membership bid and also helping introduce a few months ago an ultimately unsuccessful bill that would have criminalized the denial of the Armenian genocide. On the foreign policy, front, meanwhile, Paris and Ankara have also frequently clashed in recent years, in particular with the two vying for influence in the Middle East. For example, after the end of the NATO operation last year in Libya, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Sarkozy were in a race to see which one of them could make it to Tripoli first and become the first major foreign leader to visit the newly liberated country. Sarkozy ended up winning the contest, arriving in the Libyan capitol only a day before Erdogan.So what would a Socialist victory in France mean for Turkey? The National takes a look:
Cengiz Aktar, head of EU studies at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University, said he expected a better era to begin under Mr Hollande. "A socialist administration would lift the veto on the five chapters" of Turkey's EU membership talks now blocked by the Sarkozy government in Brussels, Mr Aktar said in an interview yesterday. "That will greatly ease the tense relations."
Mr Aktar noted that French socialists were not adamantly opposed to Turkey's EU membership application and said Mr Hollande was likely to unblock the five EU chapters, even before the summer after an election victory in May. France says it has blocked the five chapters - economic and monetary policy, agricultural policy, regional policy, financial and budgetary provisions as well as a chapter on institutions - because talks about them would give Turkey a perspective of full EU membership. Mr Sarkozy says he is willing to negotiate closer ties between Ankara and the EU, under a concept called "privileged partnership", but does not accept talks that would mean Turkey, the only Muslim EU candidate, can expect to become a full EU member.
Ioannis N Grigoriadis, a political scientist from Greece who teaches at Bilkent University in Ankara, also said a government change in France was likely to have positive effects.
"The Sarkozy presidency has invested a lot in the opposition to Turkey's membership bid," Mr Grigoriadis said. He said Mr Sarkozy had made it clear that he was opposed to Turkey's accession and would bring Turkey's EU accession to a referendum, even if Ankara fulfilled all the necessary criteria. It's a position France had not taken towards any other EU candidate.
"I don't think Hollande would repeat all that," Mr Grigoriadis said, adding he expected an improvement in relations under Mr Hollande, even though it would be difficult to restore the level of trust the two countries enjoyed under Jacques Chirac, Mr Sarkozy's predecessor, in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Meanwhile, it appears that diplomats in Ankara are already getting ready for a Hollande victory, preparing for the opening of several chapters of the EU negotiation process that are currently being blocked by France. It would appear that they are betting on a winning horse: according to most polls, the Socialist contender is likely to win the May 6 runoff with a comfortable margin.