For more than a hundred years, since the times of Ottomans and the Colonial Empires, Turkey and France have been competing in the Middle East.
France, which governed Mandated Syria and Lebanon for nearly 40 years, is trying to continue its influence in the region. Turkey also is looking for opportunities to expand its own sphere of influence. Both France and Turkey are closely watching the situation in Syria and in Lebanon. Recently the head of CSFRS, Alain Bauer, who is an expert on security matters, and in particular Turkish-French relations, talked to euronews and evaluated the direction of bilateral relations.
Bora Bayraktar, euronews: The relations between Turkey and France deteriorated during the last couple of years. Especially when Mr. Sarkozy was president, the winds blew harshly. How are the relations of Turkey and France after the presidential elections in France?
Alain Bauer: I think the problem between France and Turkey is not for the last couple of years, it is a long story that begins 600 years ago. For a long long time we had common goals, very good relations. And then we began to have complicated relations. Because we thought that Turkey’s willingness to join Europe was just aesthetic, not something really, really deep. So we promised them a lot and we did not keep a lot (of the promises). So at the moment it’s more complicated. Because we had some issues about the political way to enter Europe – not only economical ways, but the social way, the ethical way, the legal system reforms. Whatever needs to be done to have a real modern Turkey that will be at the same level with its economical skills and development. Of course when we go to the political integration of Europe, there is an issue. First because Europe is not integrated deeply enough with its older members and it’s not prepared yet to enlarge itself having been shown the false option to integrate Greece without having the economic strength that is officially needed to join the Eurozone. So at the moment relations between France and Turkey are complicated. It is also complicated because of the internal and historical issues, which are well-known. On the other hand we have to handle the Syrian crisis. We have to handle the place of Turkey in NATO. We have to handle that Turkey is a very good and reliable ally. So it is necessary to go from promises that are not kept and I think will not be kept the way they were expressed. Turkey is waiting for us to keep our promises so if we continue to do so we will not progress at all. If we change our focus, if we try to see what can be achieved, what can be done, what can be reformulated than we have some possibilities to find a way to take the challenge to the end and to find a way to have a Turkey inside one Europe, a European Alliance, maybe not in the European Union. But at this time the European Union itself is in a crisis. So something will be new, something will be changed, something will be different at the end of this crisis. For the best with Turkey in, for the worst with no European Union left.
euronews: From a Turkish point of view, the years with Sarkozy were difficult. Do you think with the new president in France the bilateral relations will improve?
Alain Bauer: I think during the time of President Sarkozy relations were friendly but not diplomatic. Relations with President Hollande, will be friendly and diplomatic. Will it change the problem of fear about the size of Turkey, the Islamic question in Europe as an effect, relations with outside of Europe, on the expansion of Europe debate? I don’t know. Of course this will be easier, this will be more respectful, the quality of relations will improve. But in the end, what will be important is what is a question we have to handle is first the economy, second the expansion, third the expansion of Europe. Fourth, of course relations with our neighbours. Because the Syrian crisis is a European crisis not only a Turkish issue. So I think it will improve for sure on the quality, the way people talk to each other, mutual respect, rules of courtesy. But I am not sure this will change a lot about the final in-depth issue which is what is the extent of integration Europe can afford with such a country, such a huge historical important country, that is Turkey?
euronews: Even before the Syrian crisis there was a big competition between Turkey and France in the Middle East. Are these countries still in big competition in the region?
Alain Bauer: Of course the Ottoman Empire had some struggle with the French Colonial Empire. But I don’t think this is the main issue. We are more concerned about Lebanon than Syria. The Syrian government, usually even before the crisis, was unhappy because the only thing that a French minister coming to Syria was discussing was Lebanon. Ant it was like, maybe we can discuss Syrian issues. So I think the days of competition that are historical since 100 years, is not the main issue of the good or bad quality of Turkey-France relations
euronews: What is French perspective on the Syrian crisis?
Alain Bauer: The French perspective is that we care a lot about the human damage. It is a drama whoever they are. If the Syrian crisis is an Alawite issue, it is a huge problem for us. Because we usually do not understand what is this religious element. We forgot strength and the effect of spiritual questions. Due to this issue against the Sunnis, there is not a real majority in Syria. That the coalition of minorities with Alawites explains why the government is still there. As long as we don’t handle the Alawite question we cannot handle the Syrian question. It is necessary to do so. I think that is also part of the question we can discuss and common statements and strategies with the Turkish government.