Paris and Ankara seem to be on diverging paths in the run-up to EU accession negotiation talks

The diplomatic thriller of recent weeks, sparked by the European Union’s response to Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, will make Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s meetings this Friday in Paris with the French president and prime minister, respectively Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin, even more timely. France has played a leading part in drawing attention to the «Turkey problem» following Ankara’s declaration on July 29 which was insulting, not only to Cyprus but to the EU itself. However, the French maneuvers acted like a cold shower on Athens and Nicosia. Villepin’s daring initial stance in favor of Turkey recognizing Cyprus stoked hopes, but the joint French-British plan – which postponed that recognition indefinitely, linking it with Turkey’s eventual EU accession (in 10-15 years at best) – was a hard landing for many. French Ambassador to Nicosia Hadelin de la Tour-du-Pin made an most unfavorable impression with his statement that Cyprus should accept the French-British plan and trust the EU «otherwise there’s no reason to be a member of the club.» He was right when he said that Paris «cannot be more pro-Cyprus than the Cypriots themselves,» hinting that Villepin’s stance had met with skepticism in Athens and Nicosia, which seemed unwilling to exploit the new, more positive outlook for the Cyprus issue following the French and Dutch ‘no’ in the referenda on the EU constitution. Moreover, the French initiative is what brought the Cyprus issue to the forefront of European attention again, taking it out of the freezer where it had been since the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan. The Greek premier will see for himself the growing skepticism of the French elite toward Turkey’s candidacy. For many in Paris, the prosecution of Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk for making courageous statements on the persecution of Kurds and Armenians was confirmation that the major obstacle to Turkey’s European prospects is not Cyprus but the Kurdish issue. Given that developments in Iraq do not favor Turkey, with the formation of an autonomous Kurdish statelet, a European approach by Turkey over its unresolved ethnic problems seems more unlikely than ever. Regardless of whether the claim that Turkey’s huge democratic deficits is a pretext, the fact is that Ankara and the major European powers appear to be on increasingly divergent paths. Austria has already requested the EU’s Permanent Council of Representatives to leave the prospect of a «special relationship» for Turkey rather than full membership open after the accession talks, according to German CDU leader Angela Merkl’s formulation. Merkl met Chirac in Paris before sending the letter to leaders of EU member states on the Turkey issue, which is seen in Paris as a powerful commitment against full accession. The sense of an unavowed coordination between Chirac and Merkl is boosted by the fact that France takes every opportunity to say that negotiations with Turkey are «open» and that whatever result they produce will be submitted to French voters in the form of a referendum. French diplomats lay great emphasis on the joint Greek-French declaration in favor of European self-sufficiency in the field of security and defense, which is expected to be signed by both sides during Karamanlis’s visit to Paris. This touches on the thorny question of the Greek air force’s purchase of fighter aircraft. The French side is not hiding its dissatisfaction with the Greek government’s decision to buy American F-16 fighters rather than the French Rafael, or at least the European Euro fighter, seeing this not solely as an economic and technical matter but also a political one. They claim that Boeing would have had no luck in competition with Airbus had it not been saved by orders from the Pentagon. We Europeans cannot talk about self-sufficiency in defense if we don’t even support our own industries, is their view. Karamanlis will undoubtedly be pressed hard to acquire European airplanes when the air force makes its next round of purchases, which has not yet been scheduled but is expected to be soon. The Paris talks are also expected to examine the EU’s impasse on the European Constitution. France is considering proposing an amended constitution (after the British presidency, for obvious reasons) from which the controversial chapters are removed, leaving the fairly anodyne first part, which relates to institutional regulations. Paris would like to see the amended draft be submitted for approval by all member states (by referendum or through parliament) almost simultaneously, within the space of three days, for instance, so that voters would not be influenced by domestic issues in each member state.