With the prospect that Socialist candidate François Hollande might be France’s next president, there is a renewed sense of optimism in Turkey over EU accession talks due to Nicolas Sarkozy’s role in blocking Turkey’s bid and the expectation that Hollande will look upon Turkey’s application more favorably. Relations between Turkey and France have deteriorated to a once-unimaginable level during Sarkozy’s tenure, a fact that resonates even more today being Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day with the recent hostility between Turkey and France over the subject. There is yet another controversy now brewing over Turkish schoolchildren in France being exposed to an anti-Turkish cartoon dealing with the Armenian genocide, which will only hasten Ankara’s eagerness to be done with the Sarkozy era and what it feels is unwarranted aggression toward Turkey.
Assuming that Hollande defeats Sarkozy in the run-off, Turkey might still want to temper its hopes. Hollande is on record as being more open to Turkey joining the EU as a full partner, but there is still the inconvenient fact that it will not happen during his five year term, so any gains made during that period might easily be reversed later on. It is also true that while Sarkozy has been leading the charge against Turkish EU membership, France is not the only country that is opposed. Many Europeans are nervous about the prospect of Turkey joining the EU and instantly becoming the bloc’s second largest country and with its largest military, and German Marshall Fund polling reflects European nervousness over the economic benefits of Turkish accession. That Sarkozy is not the sole obstacle even where France is concerned is illustrated by the fact that historically, French support for Turkey’s bid has not translated into tangible results. Jacques Chirac championed Turkey’s efforts to join and oversaw a period during which Turkey carried out wide-ranging reforms in order to meet the Copenhagen criteria, yet Turkish accession was repeatedly put off. Hollande may very well be more open to it than Sarkozy, but that is no guarantee of anything.
The other factor is that French-Turkish enmity is not simply a matter of clashing personalities or who happens to be occupying the Élysée Palace. As Yigal Schleifer points out, France and Turkey battle behind the scenes and sometimes in the open for influence in the Middle East, most recently following Qaddafi’s fall in Libya, and that is not set to change with Sarkozy’s defeat. France sees much of North Africa as being in its domain given its colonial history there, and it is threatened by another outside power establishing deep economic ties as Turkey has been doing. The Armenian issue is also not one that was first initiated by Sarkozy; the French parliament voted in 2001 to declare the events in Armenia a genocide and the Assembly voted in 2006 to criminalize its denial (it did not pass the Senate at that time). Turkey-bashing is a popular electoral sport in France no matter who is running, and the emotions that it stirs up are not so easily suppressed once the votes are counted. At the end of the day, a Hollande victory is likely to herald a positive reset in France’s relations with Turkey – although Hollande is considered to be one of the Socialist Party’s most pro-Israel politicians so the continued shenanigans over Israel in NATO forums won’t help matters – but it is not going to be the panacea that permanently puts the Armenian issue to rest in France or mean a fast track victory for Turkey’s EU bid.