ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron met on Friday in Paris. The pair discussed Middle East issues with a particular focus on Syria, as well as bilateral cooperation, including the joint Eurosam consortium between Turkey, Italy and France which will develop air- and missile-defense systems and is expected to reduce Turkey’s security vulnerabilities.
During Erdogan’s visit, an agreement was signed between ASELSAN, the prominent Turkish defense electronics company, and the Eurosam consortium.
At a meeting in Brussels in May, both presidents agreed to cooperate on counterterrorism efforts. Turkey and France have been primary targets of several Daesh terror attacks, and some 700 French nationals are believed to have joined the terror group in Iraq and Syria.
This common threat is forcing Ankara and Paris to collaborate on monitoring the activities of French militants who may try to return to their home country.
In an interview with French television prior to his Paris visit, Erdogan reiterated Turkey’s determination to crack down on foreign militants within its borders.
Turkey has deported about 5,600 foreign fighters so far, while 54,000 were barred from entering in the first place.
During his joint press conference with Macron in Paris, Erdogan said: “Turkey and its friends should fight together against terror groups Daesh, the PYD/YPG and the PKK.” The two latter are Kurdish groups which Turkey regards as terrorist organizations.
France and Germany have long opposed Turkey’s application for membership of the EU. But Turkey seems to have renewed emphasis on its membership bid in 2018 after years of strained ties. In an interview with France 24 on Thursday, Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey considers the EU membership a “strategic aim,” and “wants to overcome the troubles and open a new page.”
Macron said, “France believes that Turkey’s future should be in Europe,” but stressed that it needed to apply rule of law and democratic standards.
Erdogan, however, firmly underlined that, after 60 years of “waiting at the gates,” Ankara would no longer request membership if the Union failed to deal with it “fairly.”
Erhan Icener, an academic from Istanbul Zaim University, considers the Paris meeting an important step toward normalization of Turkey-EU relations.
“Kalin’s recent statement to France 24 is significant, considering the high tension between Turkey and some European countries, and pessimism about the future of Turkey–EU relations since the July 15 coup attempt,” Icener told Arab News.
“Those in the EU who care about Turkey should opt for engagement rather than isolation,” he added
Iceren believes the pragmatic Macron is the right political figure to open dialogue between Turkey and the EU, which, he said, will help the Turkish government “explain its domestic steps and policies in the post-July 15 period to its European partners.”
However, experts warn against expecting too much from Erdogan’s visit.
“Any real progress for Turkey’s integration with the EU still depends on the political will on both sides,” Iceren said. “I expect the results of this meeting will not be limited to bilateral cooperation and dialogue between France and Turkey but extend to Turkey’s further integration with the EU.”
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of German Marshall Fund of the United States, agreed.
“Erdogan’s visit can facilitate cooperation between Turkey and France in areas ranging from economy to the Middle East,” he told Arab News.
While some expect Macron to play the role that Merkel played in Turkey before the fallout between Germany and Turkey, this is unlikely for two reasons, he suggested.
“First, the perception of Turkey in the EU is much worse than it was back then,” he said. “Second, Macron does not have the same influence that Merkel has in the EU. However, this visit could help reverse the vicious cycle in EU-Turkey relations.”