Turkey dominates debate on enlargement

Reactions to the strategy document on EU enlargement
French observers generally highlighted the mixed progress made by most candidate countries, and in particular the Balkan states, which would slow the enlargement process by a considerable amount. Croatia is touted as a prime example for other candidate countries and confirms its status as the “next country to become a member of the EU”. French newspapers, however, insisted on the corruption problems which make the accession prospects slower than Zagreb might expect. The newspapers also emphasized the fact that this issue also implicates other candidate countries.
In France, debates on enlargement are still dominated by Turkey’s accession. Thus, the publication of the strategy document was in many respects an occasion to tackle this issue. Le Figaro insisted on the fact that, according to the Commission report, Turkey’s progress was rather limited.[1] France is opposed to the opening of negotiations with Turkey on institutional, budgetary or monetary issues, because it would imply that accession is taken for granted.
Yet, on this issue, the executive position is rather ambiguous. President Sarkozy repeatedly made his opinion clear, claiming that “Turkey does not have its place in Europe”. However, France would not be opposed to the opening of Turkey/EU negotiation chapters, President Sarkozy explained in August 2007: “If the 27 undertake this crucial discussion about the future of our Union, France will not object to new chapters in the negotiations between the Union and Turkey being opened in the coming months and years, provided these chapters are compatible with both possible visions of the future of their relations: either accession, or a very close association that stops short of accession”.[2] However, France did not accept the negotiations on the chapters which imply an adhesion (e.g. the Euro). Thus, it remains unclear whether the final purpose of the negotiations would be to make Turkey a full-fledged member or rather a privileged partner of the EU.
Given the above, the proposal formulated by the Secretary of State for European Affairs, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, appears to be ambiguous. Mr. Jouyet suggested that article 88-5 of the French Constitution, which renders a referendum compulsory prior to any future enlargement of the EU, should be suppressed. In response, President Sarkozy implied that this was a personal point of view and that he would wait for the Balladur Commission Report before making his own decision. However, Foreign Affairs Minister Kouchner suggested that Nicolas Sarkozy was in fact also involved in Jouyet’s proposal.[3] According to Mr. Kouchner, “if we asked the French public whether Serbia should join the EU, they would say no”. The Balladur Commission Report confirmed this perspective, suggesting that the President may choose between a referendum and the Congressional procedure, but also insinuating that the latter would ensure a serious and in-depth debate. Socialist Member of European Parliament Bernard Poignant seemed to support the suppression of article 88-5 and considered it to be “an idea to take seriously”.[4]
The strongest opposition to the proposal comes from the eurosceptic right-wing. French MP Nicolas Dupont-Aignant protested against what he believed to be a “scandalous denial” on Nicolas Sarkozy’s part, while the Mouvement pour la France (lead by Philippe de Villiers) considered such “an institutional bricolage to have only one goal: preventing the French people from expressing their point of view on Turkey’s accession”.[5]
Reactions to the status of Kosovo and position on EU-Serbian relations
In January 2008, the Serbian elections brought Kosovo’s status back under public scrutiny in France. The official French position seems relatively clear on this issue, even though the word “independence” has rarely been pronounced, with the exception of the Secretary of State for European Affairs Jouyet, who declared that “independence was inescapable”.[6] President Sarkozy asked the EU to support “in unity and firmly” the “only practical solution in Kosovo, the one which is on the table”. By this he was referring implicitly to the proposal of UN mediator M. Ahtisaari, to set up independence for Kosovo under international supervision. “The status quo is no longer a viable solution”, Sarkozy declared in his Speech to the Diplomatic Corps on the occasion of the New Year.[7] Finally, following Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the French President recognised “a free and independent state”, in a letter addressed to his Kosovian counterpart on February 17, 2008.
The opposition had not involved itself too much in this debate, with the exception of former Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who believes that an independent Kosovo would render the EU unstable and create a conflict in its relations with Russia.[8] Le Monde has also recently criticized the French position, albeit for a different reason. The newspaper notes that Sarkozy let it be understood that the EU is no longer insisting on Belgrade’s cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal of The Hague. Thus, he feared that attempting to find a solution to resolve the Kosovo crisis would lead the EU to “console” Serbia and abandon the principles of justice that constitutes its very foundations.[9]
According to the French press and some politicians, Kosovo’s status may well be the last obstacle to Serbia’s accession to the EU. During a visit to Serbia, Foreign Minister Kouchner told his Serbian counterpart that “France will be a special ally for your candidacy. Yet this will not be possible until there is a definitive solution to the Kosovo problem”. He also added that it was the EU’s responsibility to formulate a European position, distinct from that of Russia and the US. This idea accurately summarizes the general feeling amongst French observers, who consider the Kosovo question to be a crucial challenge for the European security and defence policy. The aim is to understand whether the EU has already learned from past mistakes.[10]

[1] Le Figaro, 07/11/2007.

[2] Inaugural speech of the 15th Ambassadors’ Conference, 27/08/2007.

[3] Interview, Grand Jury RTL Le Monde.

[4] Communiqué de Presse de Bernard Poignant.

[5] Le Nouvel Observateur, 15/09/2007.

[6] Interview with French TV Channel, Itélé, 12/06/2008.

[7] Available at:
[8] Le Figaro, 11/12/2007.

[9] Le Monde, 16/12/2007.

[10] Les Echos, 09/01/2008.