Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Hollande declines to open new EU chapter in Turkey

French President Francois Hollande opted not to unblock any more chapters in EU accession talks on a “historic” trip to Turkey.

EU officials late last year expected him to do it in order maintain a positive momentum after France lifted its veto on chapter 22, on regional policy, allowing the accession talks to restart in November.

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  • Hollande (l) and Gul: The two sides also discussed French contracts for Turkey's nuclear power plants and railways (Photo: elysee.fr)

But Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in December shocked Europe by launching a crackdown on police and judges who tried to investigate high-level corruption.

He also tabled a law that gives him control over judicial appointments in violation of EU norms on judicial independence.

Hollande is the first French head of state to visit Turkey since Francois Mitterand 22 years ago

He said little on Turkey’s political crisis at a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, the increasingly authoritarian country’s more acceptable face, on Monday (27 January).

But when asked if he is ready to lift his veto on any of the four chapters still blocked by France, he said it would be better for Cyprus to lift its veto on chapters related to law and order.

“The chapters which I think should be under discussion are precisely those which concern the subjects which currently pose questions for Turkey - the separation of powers, fundamental rights, rule of law, justice,” he said.

With the Cypriot veto tied to the 40-year-old Cypriot-Turkish conflict, there is little prospect that Cyprus will take the step.

For his part, Gul noted that Franco-Turkish relations are “very positive” since Hollande took over from his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, an outspoken critic of Turkey’s EU accession.

But he urged EU states not to “hide” behind politics in the negotiations.

“It’s a technical process. We hope this technical process will not be harmed by political issues,” he said.

He noted that when the talks end, France, Austria and Turkey will hold referendums on whether it should join: “We don’t know what the people will say. We could end up like Norway [an EU partner, but not a member state]. We don’t know yet … We are in no hurry.”

Speaking in the context of last year’s unrest in Istanbul and Turkey’s mass-scale jailing of journalists, he added that: “There is no question of political instability in Turkey. There is a strong government in Turkey … Debates may be tough from time to time, but in a mature way.”

He described Turkey as “an open society” in which there are “no taboos” in the public debate.

Hollande and Gul also tackled Turkey’s denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide ahead of next year’s centenary.

France, under Sarkozy, adopted a law criminalising Armenian genocide denial, causing a rift with Ankara. But the bill was struck down by the constitutional court.

For his part, Hollande said only: “The task of remembering is always painful, but it must be done.”

Gul said that Turks also died in large numbers in World War I and that France slaughtered people in the Algerian revolution.

“It should be left to historians. We shouldn't revive these things,” he noted.

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