by editor | 26th February 2011 9:39 am
French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid his first visit to Turkey since being elected in 2007, underlining Turkey’s importance as a political and economic actor but repeating in the clearest terms his well-known opposition to Turkish membership in the European Union.
Sarkozy had talks with President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an during his brief, working visit aimed primarily at winning Ankara’s support for his goals for France’s term at the helm of the G20. Speaking at a joint press conference with Gül after their talks, Sarkozy emphasized Turkey’s importance as a key political actor both in the world in general and in the realization of his plans for the French presidency of the EU, but emphasized that formulas alternative to EU membership should be sought.President Gül said Turkey always attached importance to its relations with France and was determined to improve ties. He said Sarkozy visited Turkey as chairman of the G20, but, noting that no French president had visited Turkey since 1992, added that he had asked Sarkozy to visit again, this time in his capacity as president of France. Sarkozy accepted Gül’s invitation to pay a state visit to Turkey, hopefully within 2011, and added that this time his stay would include ?stanbul as well.
Gül, who talked of “disagreements” with Sarkozy, said their talks had focused on Turkey’s EU membership process as well and emphasized that Ankara expected the EU to keep its promises to Turkey. “We have shared our expectation with Mr. Sarkozy that everybody should help the process. The membership process should not face artificial obstructions,” he said.
Sarkozy, for his part, said he and Turkish leaders had differing views on Turkey’s EU membership process and emphasized that alternative formulas other than membership could be found through dialogue. But he also praised Turkey’s importance, saying it is strategically located, and added that Ankara’s position was essential for the advancement of his agenda for the French term of the G20 presidency. In a sign of the importance he attaches to Turkey, the French president said he had earlier paid similar working visits to the US and China to discuss his G20 agenda.
Gül and Sarkozy also discussed developments in the Middle East. Sarkozy dismissed any disagreements with Turkey regarding possible sanctions against Libya, where forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi used brutal force to suppress anti-government protests.
Turkey, which declared the evacuation of its approximately 30,000 nationals in Libya a top priority, earlier rejected sanctions against Libya, saying they would harm the Libyan population. Sarkozy, on the other hand, calls for EU sanctions against Libya. Speaking in Ankara, Sarkozy said he understood the Turkish position, which he said did not amount to a disagreement. He added the French position was clear, that Gaddafi must go.
Sarkozy’s visit came as Turkey’s bid to join the EU came to a standstill amid disputes over Cyprus and opposition to Turkey’s membership from several member states, including most notably France and Germany. France blocks talks on five of the 35 chapters which it says are directly related to accession. The EU in 2006 suspended talks on eight chapters due to Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus.
With France leading opposition to Turkish membership within the EU, the political atmosphere was chilled before Sarkozy began his visit. Speaking on Thursday night, Prime Minister Erdo?an criticized Sarkozy’s negative stance towards Turkish membership. “We warned Sarkozy a lot on this subject. We said that the form of your approach to Turkey was very wrong,” Erdo?an said in an interview with the private ATV channel aired late on Thursday. “And I will ask him this tomorrow. I will say, look you have made such and such a statement again, but you say different things to me.”
Sarkozy, for his part, had reiterated his opposition to Turkey becoming a full member of the EU, saying in an interview published on Friday that he would prefer Turkey to become a privileged partner because of its role as a large country and bridge between the East and the West.
“For this reason, I believe it is necessary to have as close relations as possible, without going for full membership of the European Union, which would not actually be beneficial for either Turkey or the European Union,” he said in written answers to questions from the Posta daily.
Erdo?an has earlier said Turkish-French relations warrant a more substantive visit than the few hours Sarkozy allocated and lamented that Sarkozy was visiting Turkey as president of the G20 and not of France. Bilateral trade was around 12 billion euros in 2010, and France is among the largest foreign investors in Turkey.
Erdo?an’s criticism targeting Sarkozy has led to a rare consensus among Turkish politicians. Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu, who heads the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), backed Erdo?an’s criticism, saying on Friday that Erdo?an’s reaction was appropriate. “We know that Mr. Sarkozy is raising obstacles for Turkey’s membership. We wish he would have listened to the Turkish side during his visit to Turkey. So, the prime minister’s reaction is right,” he told reporters hours before Sarkozy’s visit.
Following talks with Sarkozy, Erdo?an is now due to travel to another EU country that opposes Turkish membership, Germany. Erdo?an will travel to Germany on Sunday and is due to inaugurate a telecommunication technologies and IT fair together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday. Talks between the two leaders are expected to focus on bilateral ties, as well as Turkey’s membership process. Erdo?an will then head to Brussels for talks with EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Merkel, like Sarkozy, opposes Turkey’s full membership in the EU and proposes a privileged partnership, something Turkey categorically rejects. “Don’t change the rules during the game. You as Germany and France are now using your power to take such a stance against Turkey,” Erdo?an said on Thursday night. “They presumably want us to give up. We are resisting this.”
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