Progress is expected during the term of the new president-elect, François Hollande, in Turkey’s stalled talks with the European Union for full membership. However, there is concern that as the 100th anniversary of the events of 1915, when thousands of Armenians were killed in the Ottoman Empire, approaches, there might be new tensions.
Armenia wants the 1915 incidents to be recognized as genocide, and France, which had adopted a law criminalizing the denial of genocide this year but which has since been overturned by a high court, backs these claims. Sarkozy relied on the Armenian issue extensively as material for politics despite a promise that he would not do so. Relative improvement between the two countries’ relations is expected during Hollande’s term.
However, how realistic these expectations are will be indicated first by Hollande’s stance regarding the five negotiation chapters suspended due to opposition by Sarkozy, who had initially promised voters in his election campaign in 2007 that he would stop EU talks with Turkey, but then had to resort to “suspending” chapters in the face of resistance by some of the stronger members of the bloc.
Under Sarkozy, France said it will not allow talks on five chapters to continue, which Paris insisted were directly related to full accession to the EU, although this was not officially announced. According to Olli Rehn, the commissioner for enlargement at the time, Sarkozy’s list was not reasonable, as he asserted that all 35 chapters that are part of the negotiations process have the same weight in giving accession to a candidate country. Ankara now expects the Parisian veto on the five chapters to be removed. Observers note that France might indeed issue an official statement regarding the five blocked chapters, but such a statement might only be made after the June 16 parliamentary elections.
But if France, in line with Ankara’s expectations, lifts the veto on the five chapters, will there be any progress in the negotiations that have not seen a single chapter opened since the term presidency of the EU (starting June 2010)?
In the past three terms, no chapters have been opened, and it seems unlikely that a new one will open during Denmark’s term presidency. Even if France lifts its veto right after the June 16 elections, Ankara believes this will not leave enough time to start talks on a new chapter until the end of June. On July 1, Greek Cyprus will take over the rotating EU term presidency, strongly opposed by Turkey, which has made its position very clear regarding Greek Cyprus’ presidency: Even if the EU wants to open new chapters, it is out of the question for Ankara to sit down for talks in an Intergovernmental Conference with Greek Cyprus, which it does not recognize.
The French president-elect is also not expected to devise schemes, as Sarkozy has done, to block Turkey’s path to membership. One idea Sarkozy came up with was his proposal to form a Reflection Group to discuss the future of Europe in his attempts to exclude Turkey. Another project he started was the Union for the Mediterranean, a project that made no progress whatsoever despite showy announcements during its formation.
Hollande, who has no objections to Turkish membership, though he has not expressed that it would make him pleased either, only expressed his opinion that Turkey would not be ready for EU membership during his five-year term. Hollande is expected to emphasize membership criteria when pointing out problems in the accession process, as opposed to Sarkozy’s objections that were based on arguments such as Turkey’s capital being in Asia and the country being outside of Europe, which he called “irreparable factors.” Ankara is also hopeful that Pierre Moscovici, who has frequently expressed his support for Turkish membership, will be appointed as foreign minister in Hollande’s cabinet.
In spite of optimism for the EU process, fears that Hollande might engage more proactively on the Armenian issue is causing concern for Ankara. It has yet to be seen whether Hollande will consider Turkey’s concerns.