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Will Sarkozy shift to realism ?

Friday 18 May 2007, by Yavuz Baydar

Source : TDZ, may 2007

The good news is that the EU has been swift in issuing warnings on the subject of Turkey to the new president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn’s repeated calls for caution in Turkish-EU relations have been noted and we may expect more on the issue in the immediate future.

As Rehn pointed out Turkey is more fragile than ever, given its present domestic conditions, and should not continue to be mistreated. This is a strict warning to both Sarkozy specifically and French politicians in general, as the upcoming parliamentary elections may again be conducted with heavy overtones of opposition to Turkey’s potential for full membership in the EU.

An identity crisis

It seems rather apparent that the election of Sarkozy will mean troubled times for both France and the EU. The “anti-Turkish” sentiments have long been considered expressions of France’s deepening identity crisis, which derives from a variety of national reasons, and the situation may rapidly become turn into turmoil if the new president sets out to “transform” the nation as he pledged. Loud protests immediately after the elections are alarming signs of anxiety that undoubtedly will affect the political future of Sarkozy — if the elections in June bolster his victory.
What about Turkish-French relations then? Should friends of Turkey in the EU prepare for a burial of EU negotiations? Should we wave farewell to membership?

There are certainly stronger reasons for being concerned now. A colleague, Cengiz Aktar, puts it into context. He writes: “Together with Sarkozy, seriousness is needed in France from now on. It is impossible to continue with implicit statements about Turkey, deals cut behind closed doors, facile books written about the ‘privileged partnership’ and discreditable remarks of the last three years.”

Looking back, we can now effortlessly point out the Sarkozian rhetoric as one of the main causes of the “EU fatigue” here in Turkey. Despite repeated warnings from Turkey and from other EU countries, Sarkozy — as a Turkish diplomat pointed out — “obstinately” acted like a “local politician” rather than a statesman; he dodged responsibility and moved toward populism as the easy way out.

A local politician

Politics on a major scale, though, requires grandeur in vision and an ability to look deeper into the future. Segolene Royal — despite her flaws in various issues — realized, after having seen the developing controversy around the concept of secularism and democracy in Turkey, that the dynamic “spiel” that takes place here is European indeed. Turkey’s achievements and failures - whether one realizes it or not — have an impact on Europe’s future.

Therefore it was very easy to understand when Turkish diplomats vented their frustration on the fruitless “Turkey does not belong to Europe” demagoguery, and the untimely “We shall vote off Turkish membership in the EU” discourse.

They were cheap shots which appealed only to extremist politicians and now must be the time to end all of this. As Ria Oomen-Ruijteno, new Turkey rapporteur of the European Parliament told the “AB Haber” (EU news) Web site yesterday, negotiations are open-ended by nature and it is a meaningless act by Sarkozy to try and “cut them in the middle.”

She believes realistically that, given the slowed pace, negotiations may take 15 years and during the process it seems very difficult — if not impossible — to reach the consensus needed to kill Turkey’s EU prospects.

Will there be a shift to realism? Aktar points out that Sarkozy’s proximity to the US might help in navigating in that direction. One should also add that British conservatives and heavyweight figures of the EU such as Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel must contribute pragmatic guidance to the French president — as well as the French press.

Both France and Turkey, in their own ways, are experiencing periods of political delicacy. One certainly hopes that perspectives of both countries will begin to overlap — as many of them already do. In the best case, after all of the elections, we will need a France that “listens” and a Turkey that “explains.” Patience will be needed, and a lot of effort.
The French do not like to lose: they should win Turkey.

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