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France Tries to Strengthen Relations With Turkey

Dorian Jones | Istanbul 12 October 2010

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is visiting Turkey as bilateral relations remain deeply strained over France's opposition to Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Relations between France and Turkey have have plummeted since Paris's vetoed key policy negotiations Turkey needs to join the European Union.

Turkey started entry talks with the European Union five years ago, but negotiations on several policy areas are stalled or suspended because of Turkey's refusal to open its ports to trade with EU member Cyprus. In addition, French President Nicholas Sarkozy has argued Turkey does not belong in Europe

But during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner says France is willing to help Turkey.

Kouchner says France is ready, as the Turkish foreign minister has asked for help. In this position there are three more policy areas that can be opened for negotiations to help Turkey to get closer to the EU.

The three policy areas Kouchner referred to are social policy, employment and competition. Turkey needs to complete negotiations in 35 policy areas to bring its institutions and legislation in line with those of the European Union. But 18 are blocked, mostly due to the impasse over Cyprus.

Kouchner sidestepped a question over France's opposition to Turkey's EU bid, saying only that France's position is known. But he stressed the ball is in Turkey's court, adding that Ankara needs to introduce more reforms.

Analysts say among those reforms is opening Turkish ports to Cyprus.

The Turkish government says it will only do so when an EU embargo against the Turkish Cypriots side of the island is lifted. Davutoglu politely dismissed Kouchner's offer and reiterated Turkey's frustration with France.

He says talks can cover a great distance in a very fast time if obstacles not in the accordance with the negotiation process are removed. He says when the vetoes are lifted Turkey can complete EU negotiations in two years.

Davutoglu also reiterated Turkey's complaint the Greek Cypriots were admitted into the European Union after rejecting a U.N. peace deal to reunify the island, which Turkish Cypriots accepted in simultaneous referendums in 2004.

Despite the smiling faces at the news conference, political scientist Cengiz Aktar says Paris's opposition to Turkey's EU membership is killing its bid.

"The process is dying with this sort of negative statements, that everybody should understand this," he said. "You know this is a total enmity against Turkey, and France pretends have good bilateral relations with Turkey. This is not true. France has less and less good official relations with Turkey, and that will remain so in the years to come."

Analysts say that is bad news for Kouchner because a main reason for his visit is to seek Turkish support for French diplomatic initiatives outside Europe. Paris continues to press for the creation of a Mediterranean club of countries, in which it sees Turkey playing a lead role.

But Ankara remains distinctly cool, suspecting it as an alternative to its EU aspirations.

Political columnist Murat Yetkin says Paris cannot have it both ways

"So Turkey will not say that let us forget what you are doing to us in Europe, and we will help you our best in the rest of the world. I do not think that is the equation right now," he said.

Analysts say it appears the French diplomat's two-day visit will not bring any breakthrough in French-Turkish relations or any surprises.



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