|Amid the growing turmoil and massive uncertainty about the course of Turkey, the visit by French President François Hollande offers some rays of hope.|
The visit, the first at the highest level between the two countries after 22 years, marks a new turning point. The ruling period under the predecessor of Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy, which was marred by his personal, malicious obsession to keep away Turkey from Europe did indeed cause much damage for Turkey’s globally important EU membership process.
During a time, when signs of a “clash of civilizations” should motivate every responsible global player to be constructive, France under Sarkozy did just the opposite, by blocking five key chapters, just because they had to do “directly with the full membership,”
If the citizens of Turkey, so keen on joining the EU one day in the future, today feel less enthusiastic about it, and if the surrounding region needs a stable Turkey more than ever before, French leaders have had much to conclude from that unfortunate period.
Good, therefore, to note that Hollande marks just that necessary change of mindset. He was vocal about it, as he met President Abdullah Gül, saying that his country supported the continuation of Turkey’s EU negotiation process, and focused on an issue Turkey needs most in these days of gloom and concern: unblocking relevant chapters.
“The opening of new chapters would support Turkey,” said Hollande, “as some of the negotiation chapters are related to topics — the separation of powers, fundamental rights, the rule of law and the judiciary — that are also connected to the current debate in Turkey’s domestic politics.”
This sounds good. Fourteen chapters of 35 have been opened since 2006, but the rest are in paralysis. French blockage now regards four chapters: #11 (Agriculture and rural development), #17 (Economic and Monetary Policy), #33 (Financial and Budgetary Provisions) and #34 (Institutions). Paris was already highly commended for unblocking chapter # 22 last year, and Hollande is now rightly assured by Gül that his pledge to continue will be welcomed by the Turkish civil society.
The question after almost 10 years of negotiations is still the same for main actors of the EU, such as France: Do you sincerely — repeat, sincerely — want a democratically stable Turkey, member of the EU or not, at the EU’s eastern border? If the answer for Hollande and his team is yes, then there is some not-so-difficult homework to take home.
The unblocking of some key chapters will surely bring about a significant change in Turkish political dynamics, as the country is being dragged towards norms of a Central Asian regime, and push for reforms. At this critical stage — for Turkey, the Middle East and the EU — what France can do is twofold. First, as we all know, Chapter 17 – relevant, also due to the Turkish financial situation — is all set for opening, and is fully up to Paris to do so. Second, if Berlin also shares Hollande’s concern over Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s impunity-colored intentions to subordinate the judiciary to the political executive, both France and Germany should roll up their sleeves to “persuade” Cyprus to unblock extremely relevant chapters 23-24.
Here is a reminder of what Chapter 23 is about: “The establishment of an independent and efficient judiciary is of paramount importance… Legal guarantees for fair trial procedures must be in place… Likewise, Member States must fight corruption effectively as it represents a threat to the stability of democratic institutions and the rule of law.”
And, here is what Chapter 24 means: “On issues such as external migration, asylum, border control, visas, judicial cooperation in criminal and civil matters, police cooperation, the fight against organized crime and terrorism, cooperation in the field of drugs and customs cooperation. A professional, reliable and efficient police organization is of paramount importance.”
So, the issue now goes way beyond the interests of Cyprus, which also should address the question of what sort of Turkey it wants to see as its northern neighbor. Unblocking these two chapters might help a lot.