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Turkey sees 'beginning of change' in French stance on EU bid

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(ANKARA) - Turkey is seeing the "beginning of change" in France's once hostile attitude towards its decades-long struggle to join the European Union under new President Francois Hollande, the country's EU affairs minister told AFP.

"It doesn't make sense to block Turkey's process," Egemen Bagis said in an interview before starting a visit to France on Tuesday. "We have positive expectations from the Hollande government."

Turkey's efforts to join the 27-member bloc have stalled in recent years, largely because of the long-running dispute with Cyprus and fierce opposition from other EU member states including France.

Stumbling blocks include Turkey's human rights record, its large Muslim population and the eurozone debt crisis, which tested confidence in the bloc's own future.

Turkey, an associate member of the old European Economic Community since 1963, first sought to become an EU member in 1987 but did not launch formal accession talks until 2005.

Of the 35 so-called policy chapters EU candidates must negotiate, Turkey has opened talks on only 13 and France has vetoed negotiations on five.

But in a sign of an apparent change of heart under Hollande, Paris said this month it would unblock talks with Turkey on the chapter regarding regional aid.

Turkey and France have enjoyed close ties since the Ottoman Empire, but relations cooled after right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy became president in 2007 and raised objections to Turkey's EU aspirations.

"Unfortunately, the attitude of Mr Sarkozy was illogical ... but I'm glad that the French people chose to send him fishing instead of ruling the country, because it should take common sense to run a country," said Bagis, who is also Turkey's chief negotiator and a senior member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Ties between the NATO allies hit an all-time low after French legislators passed a bill in 2011 making it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I constituted genocide.

Although the legislation was later declared invalid by France's constitutional court, it severely damaged business ties.

"People in this country stopped consuming Danone yoghurts just because the name was French," Bagis said.

Turkish companies were reluctant to get involved in joint ventures because they felt that "being partners with a French company would be a liability rather than an asset for them and they chose not to become partners," he added.

The public appetite for EU membership is waning among frustrated Turks, but Bagis said he was confident the European Union could easily reverse that sentiment.

"All Europe has to do is give Turkey an exact date for membership and say if Turkey completes all the necessities, Turkey will become a full member as of x date, then we would get the public support back behind this process overnight," he said.

Bagis said that despite its financial woes, the EU was still attractive for Turkey -- which has transformed its economy after a devastating meltdown in 2001, with record growth rates exceeding 8.0 percent in 2010 and 2011.

"Turkey is determined to join this club, but when we join the club, we will also help this club put itself in shape," he said.

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Turkey sees beginning...

Posted by Demir Arabaci at 21 February 2013, 00:32 CET

I hear that sarky (yid) is out of a job and selling condoms to penguins in iceland....and his wife has taken off with a milkshake maker in Swaziland.