France in the game at last?

Published 12.09.2017 00:46

The French state should not allow the relationship between Turkey and the EU to be damaged by everyday politics

I have had the opportunity to write extensively about Turkish German relations in recent months. My fears unfortunately have come to reality, to an extent that I had hardly imagined. One of my humble proposals was to make a call to French diplomacy to enter the game and act as a moderating force in the drift among German and Turkish governments.

The last declaration made by French President Emmanuel Macron, while he was paying an official visit to Greece (sic). Asked whether France would support the termination of accession negotiations with Turkey, announced between the lines by Chancellor Merkel and Social Democratic Party (SPD) President Schultz during their TV debate, Macron's answer was extremely balanced. He underlined the importance of Turkey regarding the external relations of the EU. He said concisely that France was not really siding with Germany regarding a blunt and definitive suspension of accession negotiations. He, on the other hand, put forward another field of negotiations, pertaining to the modernization of the customs union, which could be used to pressure Turkey.

Therefore, a dual development took place: The good news is that France, for the first time, is playing down the escalating situation between Turkey and Germany. That is extremely necessary for both sides, a big player in the EU intervening on behalf of Turkey to solve the quagmire we have put ourselves in with Germany. The bad news is that France, through its young and capable President Macron, will support the delaying of customs union modernization talks. That can be very counter-productive.

Why? For a very simple reason, the customs union remains the backbone of our relations. This should be considered a field where political interventions are minimized. Call it Ostpolitik für Türkei, call it opportunism, this is a real and very touchy issue, which cannot be sacrificed on the altar of political tensions.

Didier Billion, a very proficient researcher in EU affairs and deputy director at the IFRI, the well-known French think tank, made a very thorough analysis of our institutional relations in a colloquium. He said, among other very pertinent assessments that: "We feel that the European Union, in relation to Turkey, over the last at least 20 years, played endlessly at the wrong time and on the wrong side."

An example has been mentioned: for several years, after the seizure of power by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and under its leadership, a process of real and positive economic and especially political reforms that contributed to the expansion of democratic individual and group rights in this country took place. It is at this time, even though a virtuous and dynamic commitment was taking place, some European leaders, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel to name a few, traced the prospect of a "privileged partnership" that wasn't at all the goal of the process opened in 2005.

Now, having sabotaged the accession negotiations since their very inception, the EU has played a negative role in the democratization of Turkey, perhaps unwillingly, perhaps in an amateurish way, but the situation today owes much to the failure of these negotiations.

It would definitely be absurd to think that the outcome of these accession negotiations would have been crowned with success if the EU had stuck to its principles. As a matter of fact, EU membership is chiefly a political issue. A number of member states even today fall short of fulfilling the membership criteria, but they have been accepted as members ahead of their preparedness, in order to consolidate their democratic functioning. Has this been a successful move? We will never know, and thinking that countries like Geece or Poland or Hungary would have fallen into the hands of authoritarian regimes without EU membership is speculation (to some degree).Turkey was never considered by the EU as a country "who's democratic functioning must be consolidated at all costs," contrary to the perception of Greece for instance. A big outsider, Turkey has never been seen as a "suitable candidate" for the EU, even though the EU has gone way beyond the number of countries it was poised to accept.

Now the EU should seriously consider its finality, its development, or as it is customary to say, "its natural frontiers." Today's issue is not membership, but the functioning of the immense single market. Turkey is part of this market, having harmonized its legislation to match that of the EU market regulations, and acting as a formidable relay between the EU and third country markets. Turkey's harmonization with the EU has transformed surrounding markets' industrial and trading standards.

The EU must not overlook this vital role played by Turkey. This is vital not only for the EU but for Turkey also. We shall not harm the functioning of the customs union. On the contrary, a lot depends on its development and modernization. This is not daily politics; this is not a transient, ephemeral, recoverable problematic issue. If French diplomacy cannot comprehend it to its correct extent, who will?

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