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Hollande cautiously backs Turkey's EU bid

French president revives a plan to submit Turkey's EU ambitions to a French referendum, despite likely ire of Ankara.

Last updated: 27 Jan 2014 20:11
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Hollande's trip is the first by a French head of state to Turkey in 22 years [AFP]

French President Francois Hollande has cautiously backed Turkey's aim to join the European Union despite its recent crackdown on police and judiciary and earlier French reservations about the idea.

But the trip, the first by a French head of state to Turkey in 22 years, was dramatic enough on its own with Hollande reviving a plan to submit Turkey's EU ambitions to a French referendum.

That pledge will likely draw the ire of Turkey, as it did back when former French president Jacques Chirac first floated it in 2005, before shelving it three years later.

Negotiations do not entail membership. The issue of membership will be decided upon at a referendum.

Francois Hollande , French president.

Hollande steered clear of any mention of his private life while in Ankar, presenting himself as a statesman with a decisive policy on the EU ambitions held by mostly Muslim Turkey, with its population of 76 million.

"No need to stoke fears. The French people will any case be consulted," he said during a news conference with Gul.

Noting that Turkey had resumed EU membership negotiations late last year following a three-year hiatus, Hollande added: "Negotiations do not entail membership. The issue of membership will be decided upon at a referendum."

Under EU rules, accession of a new member requires unanimous approval by the bloc's current 28 members.

European leaders criticised the AK Party leader in Brussels last week, saying democratic principles needed to be upheld.

Hollande said Turkey should continue to negotiate in view of joining the EU despite the criticism as such talks would allow it to address issues such as rule of law, judicial independence, separation of powers and respect of fundamental liberties.

"The negotiation process must allow Turkey to develop and show what it's capable of achieving. That is the answer that the Turks must provide," he said during a joint news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, enumerating a series of negotiation points still to be covered.

Repairing ties 

Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy favoured association status for Turkey over full accession, saying the country was too big, too poor and too culturally different to join the EU.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told Erdogan during the Turkish leader's first visit to Brussels in five years that respect for rule of law and independence of the judiciary were essential conditions for EU membership.

Gul, avoiding any mention of tension in Ankara except for two references to a "vigorous debate", said the negotiation was a technical process whose outcome would not be known until all outstanding issues had been laid to rest.

"We respect that the accession process is one to adopt legal and democratic criteria and judicial norms," he said. "We would not like this to become hostage to politics."

France and Turkey's relationship remains frayed two years after full diplomatic ties were restored after a falling out over a law which made it illegal to deny that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 was genocide. 

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