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  • The Dispute between France and Turkey
    Wed, 28 December 2011
    Randa Takieddine

    Members of the ruling parliamentary majority in France erred by voting in the National Assembly for a law to punish the denial of the massacres against the Armenians for a number of reasons. First, the vote took place for purely electoral reasons, since the Armenian vote in France’s presidential elections in around four months’ time, followed by legislative elections, is some 400,000-strong. It comes at an inopportune time because it goes against France’s diplomatic efforts with Turkey. A few weeks before the vote, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe made a successful visit to Turkey to discuss joint action to find solutions to the crisis in Syria. Now, following this vote, Paris will no longer be able to move in concert with Ankara; Juppe termed the vote not useful and unproductive. The timing of this move by the legislature might be useful for a number of MPs from Marseilles and the south of the country, who are determined to pick up support from Armenian voters. However, the vote is not part of the calculations of the French president, who seeks to play a role on the international stage with the Turks, especially since the Armenians traditionally vote for the French right.

    In the second place, the text of the law contradicts all of France’s commitments to not legislate matters having to do with earlier phases of history. In 2008, the speaker of the National Assembly, Bernard Accoyer, committed himself, in a report he issued, to not tabling legislation of this sort, which was violated in this recent vote.

    Another motivation for the vote is that the majority in the French Senate is now with the left, following the most recent elections, meaning the Socialist opposition to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Prior to this, when a right-wing majority held the French Senate last fall, Sarkozy could have relied on the Senate to defeat the law. Now, the left-dominated Senate is hinting that it will endorse the law, even if it contains negative points – it will be a way to irritate Sarkozy.

    These purely electoral reasons were behind pulling the legislation out of the “freezer,” where it had been since 2007. Sarkozy was aware that the move would anger the Turks and inspire them to seek political revenge. Turkey condemned France for committing massacres in Algeria, while also mentioning Rwanda. The Turks are also resorting to halting contracts with France which were in any case stumbling, since France was not among the expected parties to win the contracts. There is a fear that France will suffer economic losses with the latest development, as France currently enjoys a surplus in its trade balance with Turkey.

    The move by the legislature will cost France in its diplomatic moves with Turkey, vis-à-vis the popular uprisings in the Arab world, from Syria to Libya, and in the Middle East in general, all for electoral reasons that contain no guarantees, in any case, because the possibility that the Socialists will take office in France is very strong.

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