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09 May 2007 - Today's Zaman
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ellspacing="0" ceÿg &VIVE LA FRANCE! BUT WHAT ABOUT TURKEY?)

Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory on Sunday ushers in a new era of French politics. The son of a Hungarian immigrant who abandoned him and his brothers when they were small, Sarkozy has succeeded through sheer guts and determination.

{kozy has succeeded through sheer guts and determination. Nowadays he is a man in a hurry. When he takes over from Jacques Chirac on May 16, he will have a long to-do list, including: kicking off his ambitious reform agenda including unemployment, economic growth, labor market regulations and immigration; moving along the infamous EU Constitutional Treaty -- Sarkozy favors a “mini-treaty” which would not have to go to public referendum. He wants to get it off his desk as soon as possible so that his first years in office are not bogged down by this ongoing problem; and, lastly, put France back on the world stage on which, according to Monsieur Sarkozy, it has played an unacceptably minor role over the last few years. However in many of France’s migrant communities his election was met with despair, resulting in a number of riots. Known for his heavy-handed policies on security and migration, Sarkozy suppressed riots in ethnically mixed suburbs in 2005, when he served as interior minister, during which time he infamously claimed he would work to “hose away the scum in France.” This made him a hugely unpopular figure with France’s North African communities, with many feeling they were being treated like second-class citizens. He has a huge mountain to climb here.
Coming to Turkey, it is well known that Sarkozy does not support Turkish membership of the EU, claiming that it would be the end of political Europe. Rather he favors, as does his counterpart in Germany, some type of “privileged partnership” and the development of a “Mediterranean Community,” whatever that might be -- he has not expanded on that gem as yet. I am not convinced that Sarkozy will launch himself into an all-out assault to bring Turkey’s talks to an end. More likely he will put the issue on a back-burner and deal with more pressing domestic concerns first. In any event he will have to abide by the decision taken by the European Council in Copenhagen and listen to France’s influential business community, who are strong supporters of Turkish membership. Sarkozy is a pragmatic man and will not want to rock the EU boat just as he has climbed aboard. However at the same time France may look for ways to further slow the accession process for Turkey, and when France takes over the EU Presidency in the second half of 2008 they will probably sit on their hands.

More important in Turkey’s relations with France is whether Sarkozy decides to ratify the bill, passed by the French Parliament in October, making it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide. One of Sarkozy’s closest friends and advisers is Patrick Devedjian, a high profile member of Armenia’s diaspora community. To what extent he will influence Sarkozy remains to be seen. France is home to a large Armenian immigrant community, with up to 500,000 people of Armenian descent. The community is a powerful political lobby. Sarkozy will have to perform a balancing act as he needs to guard French bilateral relations with Turkey -- particularly business interests -- while at the same time keeping the Armenian lobby and others happy. Therefore even if Sarkozy does not ratify the bill he will certainly attempt to use the whole genocide issue as a bargaining tool whenever the opportunity arises.

In any event the first challenge Sarkozy will face will be the parliamentary elections in June. Securing a workable majority in the National Assembly would greatly ease the passage of Mr. Sarkozy’s planned reforms. Mr. Sarkozy is a passionate, dynamic human-dynamo who is both smart and charismatic. Being the president of a country that is known for being stubborn and unpredictable, Sarkozy will certainly need all these qualities.

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