Turkey and Other Bones of Franco-American Contention

At the NATO summit in Istanbul, wrapping up its second and final day today, relations between the United States and France have certainly not gotten any better. Bush did not help prepare things very well with an interview he had with RTE (Irish Radio and Television – official transcript here) as he made his way to Istanbul by way of Ireland (and a summit there with top EU officials over the weekend). In the interview he strongly suggested that it was really only France that opposed the Coalition attack on Iraq – “And, really, what you’re talking about is France, isn’t it?” – an assertion which seems to be in contradiction with widely-held facts. Then, once in Istanbul, Bush seemed to think he had the authority to advise the EU to admit Turkey as a member-state, which prompted French President Jacques Chirac to declare that Bush “not only [went] too far, but he went into territory that isn’t his. . . . It is not his purpose and his goal to give any advice to the EU, and in this area it was a bit as if I were to tell Americans how they should handle their relationship with Mexico.” Undaunted, Bush has since repeated this line today at a speech at an Istanbul university: “America believes that as a European power, Turkey belongs in the European Union.” (This CNN report has all the details of the spat in English.)


Of course President Bush has no business advising the EU whether they should accept Turkey as a member-state or not. Fortunately, the American President’s name is such poison these days within the European body-politic that his endorsement can be counted upon to move many to wonder whether admitting Turkey is such a good idea after all. And it isn’t – President Chirac’s point about the analogy with Mexico was at the same time well-taken and not taken far enough. This analogy with Mexico not only shows up how this is something that the Americans should keep their noses out of. It’s also a perfectly good illustration of the nonsense of admitting to the EU a country which not only would instantly become one of the Union’s largest member-states by population (and so with the considerable population-based influence in the Union’s institutions that goes with that, such as in the European Parliament and in Council voting procedures), but which also 1) Would nonetheless be among the Union’s poorer members, with most of that population constituting peasants in the countryside, and 2) Which is a country with fundamental cultural differences from the entire rest of the EU, in that it is Muslim and the entire rest of the EU is not. True, the rest of the EU is not necessarily Christian; most observers label many EU members – e.g. the Scandinavian nations – as “post-Christian,” for example. But whatever they are, they are not Muslim, and all EU countries have fundamental differences with Turkey over such important issues as society’s treatment of women.

Indeed, if US authorities are so eager to have Turkey join the EU, let them first present their own plans for admitting Mexico to the (American) Union. Of course, they have nothing of the sort in mind; these statements on Turkey are little more than a tactic to try to ingratiate the US with Turkey in particular – after many months of strained relations, punctuated by Turkey’s refusal to admit the passage of Coalition troops during the invasion of Iraq – and with world Muslims in general. Such words come easy, as the US would not have to deal with the problem of incorporating such a fundamentally non-European state into European institutions. But those European states and their leaders would – and they’re the ones who can be left alone to decide whether or not to open formal accession negotiations, thank you very much, something the political calendar shows that they must do by the end of this year.

Le Figaro, surprisingly, is unique among the main French on-line papers to cover this latest US-French contretemps, and the remarkable main point of its article is shown right away in the title: Chirac Opens Europe’s Door to Turkey. In other words, while Chirac is perfectly willing to instruct the American President to cease talking Turkey, at bottom he, too, looks favorably upon accession. I wasn’t aware of this before – certainly the French public is currently against welcoming Turkey into the EU by a healthy majority. Indeed, Chirac’s own political party, the Union Pour un Movement Populaire or UMP, campaigned against Turkish accession during the recent Euro-Parliament elections, reports Le Figaro’s reporter, Luc de Barochez. No matter: Chirac has made it clear that, in his view, it is in the political and economic interests of Europe to have “a Turkey that is stable, democratic, and modern, having chosen for a lay society since 1923.” And he praised the “considerable efforts” by Ankara of recent years to come more into adherence with European human rights as well as market economy standards.

Of course, all of the above does not necessarily imply endorsement of any actual Turkish membership of the EU. Chirac also took care to note that accession negotiations (he apparently is taking an affirmative decision at the end of the year for granted) “will be slow and difficult” – the clear implication is that they may ultimately not succeed. So maybe the French President is again being as wily as everybody gives him credit for and hedging his bets on this issue on either side.


It’s even possible that he coupled his (seeming) endorsement of Turkey – and therefore a sort of agreement with what the American President is advocating – with his warning to George W. Bush to back off on this issue simply in order to moderate the severity of the latter. Or maybe not: as de Barochez goes on to report, there have already been plenty of other substantive policy differences between the US and France at this NATO summit in Istanbul, to wit:

  • Chirac has vetoed any plan to send troops under NATO to Iraq for any purpose, even including the training of Iraqi military and police personnel that the summit otherwise has promised to perform; Iraqi military and police personnel will come to NATO countries for the training, and not the other way around.
  • There were plans mooted to send NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force to boost the NATO troops already on duty trying to bring some sort of security to Afghanistan. Chirac shot that one down too, arguing that it amounts to trying to “taking a hammer to smash a fly.”
  • And Chirac has refused to attach any seriousness to the American “Greater Middle East” initiative, first broached at that G8 summit just off the Georgia coast earlier this month, to try to turn that region into some sort of democratic oasis.

At the same time, de Barochez is quick to note in the article’s last paragraph, the French approach is by no means pacifist. Indeed, France has some bona fide NATO credentials to its credit these days, such as the French general that is about to take command of NATO troops in Kosovo. It’s also France that will take command of those NATO troops in Afghanistan in August, as the “Eurocorps” (the nominal NATO unit of French, German, and Polish troops) takes over operations. So when Chirac says that the Rapid Reaction Force is not needed over there, he is making that judgment against the background of calculations about his own troops’ safety.

When it all comes down to it, de Barochez concludes, the Franco-American differences within NATO are indeed substantive, and spring from a profound philosophical difference on the question of whether Europe should ever be able to be truly militarily independent from the US. We all recall (and we covered it in €S) that “praline summit” in Brussels of late April, 2003, between France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg, which ultimately was all about starting to move Europe in this direction, so it’s clear where Jacques Chirac stands on this matter.

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