French President Francois Hollande expressed his belief that the EU can help Turkey's transformation thanks to its ongoing accession process, and underlined that France will "not be in a position to stop the negotiation process," during a first official visit from a French head of state to Turkey since 1992, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
His remarks therefore seemed to give the green light for the removal of France's blockage of four negotiation chapters.
"The opening of new chapters would support Turkey, as some of the negotiation chapters are related to topics - the separation of powers, fundamental rights, the rule of law and the judiciary - that are also connected to the current debate in Turkey's domestic politics," Hollande said on Jan. 27, speaking at a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
"The opening of new chapters would help Turkey progress," he added.
Hollande arrived in Ankara early on Monday with a large delegation composed of ministers, businessmen and journalists. He held talks with Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and was also expected to meet with Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu before moving to Istanbul, where he will head a business forum and deliver a speech at Galatasaray University.
The French leader said his country supported the continuation of Turkey's EU negotiation process, but added that it would make a final decision on Turkey's membership with a referendum at the end of the process. "There is no need to unnecessarily agitate using some fears," Hollande said, in an indirect reference to skepticism in his country about Turkey's full membership to the EU. "Fourteen chapters out of 35 have been opened since 2004. Which means that we should continue the negotiations process. At the end of the day, the final decision will be given by the French people," he said, referring to the future referendum that will take place on Turkey's membership.
For his part, President Gul asked Hollande not to block Turkey's EU candidacy.
"We welcome the positive stance that Hollande has adopted over the past few years. But the negotiation process does not mean full membership. The negotiation process is an adaptation process. We hope a political blockage will not take place," he said.
"We are not in a rush for membership. But we are in rush for the continuation of talks without political or other sorts of blockages. I am not only referring to France, but all countries," Gul added.
Asked about the recent ongoing political turmoil in Turkey, he said there were many debates in the country, "as Turkey is a democratic country with an open society."
"There is no question about political stability in Turkey ... Debates may be tough from time to time, but in a mature way. But all this neither [negatively] affects Turkey's political stability nor its economy," Gul said.
Describing Hollande's visit to Turkey as "an opportunity," Gul said "both countries should benefit from it."
Strategic agreements signed
Turkey and France signed a strategic cooperation agreement during Hollande's state visit to Ankara, along with many other agreements, including on nuclear energy and infrastructure projects. President Hollande underscored economic opportunities in nuclear and renewable energy, agriculture, and transportation.
"In our talks with the [French] president we identified a new target of 20 billion Euros for our bilateral trade volume," Gul said, adding that the agreements signed today would help bolster already strong economic and trade ties between the two allies.
Touching on the Syrian crisis, Hollande stressed the issue of cooperation to work against extremist groups in Syria, and underlined Turkey and France's responsibilities in the Mediterranean region.
Armenian genocide on the table
The two presidents also exchanged views on a potential attempt to ban denial that the 1915 massacres of Ottoman Armenians constituted genocide through a legal proposal at the French Parliament. President Gul said they discussed the issue in a very sincere and open way and emphasized the need for a joint study of the 1915 events by historians and with participation of third parties.
"Just like in the French-Algerian case. We cannot deal with this issue on our own. There is need for a joint work," Gul stressed, repeating Turkey's call for the establishment of a joint committee.
Recalling that freedom of speech was an essential part of European values, he also said both sides of the argument should be able to express their views in France. "We respect the verdict of the French Constitutional Council on this issue," Gul said.
The two presidents also reviewed the developments in Syria and the ongoing Geneva 2 conference in detail. Both Gul and Hollande stressed that the conference should bring about a transitional government with full executive power, in a way not to leave gray areas that could leave "unwanted entities" within Syria.