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The meaning of Sarkozy

Friday 8 June 2007, by Sahin Alpay

Last month Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president of France. France is not a country that is familiar to me. I have neither lived in France, nor have the ability to read or write French. I follow what is happening there mostly by reading books and newspapers in the languages available to me.

I am aware that Sarkozy has promised France more authority, more uniculturalism, less immigration, more work, less bureaucracy, more market, closer relations with America, among other things. He does not, however, give me the impression that he is to achieve more “power and grandeur” for France.

If I were French I would undoubtedly have voted for his rival Segolene Royal, but the choice of the leader is surely up to the French people. The election of Sarkozy concerns me only with respect to what he promises for the future of the EU and of Turkey.

Turkey’s issue

The question I have in mind is this: What is the meaning of Sarkozy from the perspective of the EU and of Turkey in the EU?

Let me begin with Turkey. Turkey was perhaps the country where the “soft power” of the EU, that is its ability to attract and persuade countries to adopt its norms and goals, proved most effective. The promise of EU membership encouraged, especially in the period between 1999 and 2005, Turkey to adopt under various governments — particularly under the Justice and Development Party government (dubbed “Islamist” by its opponents) — remarkable reforms to broaden its democracy and to modernize its economy. The recognition of Turkey’s European identity by the EEC in 1963, and its confirmation by the EC in 1989 and by the EU in 1999 has surely been the greatest incentive for the Turkish reform program which has rightly been called a “Quiet Revolution.”

Sarkozy’s shift from his party’s traditional position of supporting Turkey’s EU bid and adoption of Giscard d’Estaing’s (”Turkey’s membership would be the end of the EU”) position, his pronouncements that “Turkey should recognize the Armenian Genocide”, that “Turkey cannot become a member of the EU even if it recognizes the Armenian Genocide,” and his offer to Turkey of membership in the “Mediterranean Union” instead of the EU has definitely helped the soft power of the EU over Turkey to approach the point of extinction.

Will Sarkozy in power, as is argued by some, behave differently towards Turkey than Sarkozy during the election campaign? I am in no position to tell. I do know, however, that the growing role of the military in Turkey’s politics as witnessed by the e-memorandum of April 27, and the increased risk in Turkey of the reversal of the gains of the “Quiet Revolution” is closely related with the opposition to Turkey’s EU membership that began with Angela Merkel in Germany and continued with Nicolas Sarkozy in France.

I disagree with those who claim that the military in Turkey has from the outset opposed Turkey’s EU accession process. I believe that the military in Turkey is once again immersed in politics as a consequence of European leaders trying to derail that process.

It is in a strange twist of history that France under the leadership of Sarkozy has assumed the leading role in pushing Turkey out of Europe. France is the country which has historically made perhaps the greatest impact on Turkey’s Europeanization. Had Turkey’s Unionist and Kemalist leaders been attracted more by British than French ideas, the course of history in Turkey would certainly have followed a different path. The role of ideas that originate from France in the shaping the secular fundamentalist, nationalist and centralist ideology of state elites of Turkey cannot be underestimated.

Merkel, under the pressure of her social democratic partners, at least abides by the “pacta sund servanda” principle. Sarkozy and his likes, on the other hand, seem to have no respect for that principle, and no concern at all for the EU’s credibility and respectability. Their attitude boils down to the abandonment of the ideal of Europe united on the universal values of human rights, rule of law, democracy, and respect for cultural diversity, and the embrace instead of the ideal of Europe as a cultural union, as a “Christian Club.” By trying to push Turkey out of Europe, Sarkozy and others not only send the signal to millions of Muslims in Europe that they are second-class citizens and are to remain so, but by refusing to lend support to the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law in Turkey, they are also likely to alienate the social and political forces in the Muslim world who are struggling for freedom and democracy.

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Source : TDZ, 04.06.2007

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