French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent an envoy to Ankara at the weekend to try to calm tensions over his opposition to Turkish membership in the EU, the newspaper Le Figaro reported on Tuesday (May 29th). The paper also said Sarkozy would not prevent the EU from opening three new policy chapters in Turkey’s membership negotiations next month, because he has other priorities.
Sarkozy’s top diplomatic adviser, Jean-David Levitte, a former French ambassador to Washington, visited Ankara on Sunday to explain France’s position, Le Figaro said. “It is a question of finding a way forward which does not break Europe- or Franco-Turkish relations in two,” an unnamed presidential official was quoted as saying.
The move followed a phone call from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Sarkozy late last week. Erdogan suggested delaying a debate on Turkey’s EU membership, as the negotiation process is expected to last at least ten years.
The process — which will continue to transform Turkey — is more important than the final outcome, Erdogan told Sarkozy. As an EU member, France will have the opportunity to vote on Turkey’s accession if and when the country successfully completes the negotiations.
Erdogan suggested “meeting directly” to overcome differences. Sarkozy reaffirmed his opposition to Turkey’s Union membership last Wednesday during his first official visit to Brussels. “I don’t think Turkey has its place in the EU — it’s a question on which I have not changed my mind,” Sarkozy said during a joint press conference with European Commission (EC) President Jose Manuel Barroso.
However, he also said breaking the EU’s deadlock over institutional reform is a more urgent priority than discussing Turkey. He did not say whether Paris would seek to block Turkey’s ongoing entry talks or not.
During his election campaign, Sarkozy staunchly opposed Turkey’s EU membership and advocated a special partnership with Turkey within a Mediterranean Union that would include countries along the Mediterranean rim in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
The EC and several EU member states, including Britain, Italy and Sweden, are against suspending Turkey’s EU talks. The group also opposes offering Turkey anything short of membership.
Washington also continues to support the country’s Union bid. “The United States has supported Turkish membership of the EU and that continues to be our position. We would simply hope that in the weeks and months ahead … France would keep an open mind on this subject and hold open the possibility of discussing this issue,” US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told the French-American Foundation in Paris on May 16th, ahead of Sarkozy’s inauguration.
“I do not understand how Sarkozy believes he can manage to solve the problems of his country with hardline policies against immigrants, foreigners, with further alienating them,” former Turkish Ambassador to Paris Sonmez Koksal said. “We will have to wait and see whether Sarkozy will modify his approach towards Turkey or not. If not, of course Turkey also has various diplomatic means and policy options.”
According to Koksal, the former head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation, Sarkozy’s offer of a Mediterranean Union is totally unacceptable. He said Turkey should press ahead with its bid to join the EU.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has expressed its determination to proceed. “Turkey’s EU objective is clear,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Bilman said. “Turkey’s status is also very clear — it is a country which has started negotiations. The target of these negotiations has been determined as nothing but full membership.”