Ex-PM of France: No place for Turkey in EU, refugee deal doesn’t change anything

Overwhelmed by the wave of refugees coming its way, the European Union is hoping to solve the crisis by striking a deal with Turkey. Ankara is promising to halt the flow of people fleeing from the war-torn Middle East towards Europe, but is hoping to restart EU membership talks in return. Will Turkey be able to uphold its end of the bargain? And is the EU ready to accept Turkey into its ranks? Former Prime Minister of France, Chairman of the French Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces – Jean-Pierre Raffarin is on SophieCo to discuss this and more.

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Sophie Shevardnadze: France is still living under a state of emergency, which was declared by the president after the terrorist attacks in Paris. What additional security measures are being implemented? What liberties are people in France willing to sacrifice for the sake of security? Will there be additional precautions taken after the Brussels events?

Jean-Pierre Raffarin: Yes, a state of emergency has been declared, and we have to step up security measures. First, we are talking about additional manpower to keep watch over the situation in cities, with 10,000 troops joining the police. As you know, we don’t usually use the army for law enforcement; the police and the gendarmerie typically handle these situations.

But this time the army has deployed 10,000 soldiers to different parts of the country to monitor the situation. Secondly, we have stepped up security in places that are particularly vulnerable. Thirdly, we’ve stepped up our intelligence efforts. The parliament passed a new legislation giving more powers to intelligence agencies. So we have this extraordinary situation, which shouldn’t last long, but for now we need to keep security tight.

SS: Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says there should be more control inside the Schengen zone. How can this be done? How can Europe maintain one of its core values – freedom of travel – in the face of this terrorist threat?

J-P R: Of course, we want European states to be able to control what’s happening on their borders - I am talking about the borders inside the Schengen zone. But inside this area  freedom of travel still remains at this point. Naturally, we have put additional security measures in place in order to protect the French people against those who have entered Europe illegally and pose a threat to our security. We find ourselves in a very complicated situation. If we want to maintain  freedom of travel inside Europe we need to make sure there are strict controls on its external borders.

That’s why today there is a significant debate going on between European states about introducing new regulations in Europe, a ‘Schengen 2’, stepping up security measures on the EU’s external borders so we can maintain free travel inside the zone. But if Europe’s external borders are porous, if they’re not secure enough, some countries, as we have already seen, may choose to close their borders unilaterally.

SS: The terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris shocked Europe and the whole world. They were carried out by Belgian citizens but from immigrant families. Will these events have an effect on EU immigration policies?

J-P R: These events deeply shocked us and the whole world. We all saw how world leaders condemned the Brussels terrorist attacks. I think that all Europeans understand that we need to protect ourselves, secure our borders and work out a common anti-terrorist policy. Terrorism is a common threat. For example, the European Parliament is discussing sharing a common database of all airline passengers. The EU often disagrees on various issues but these brutal terrorist attacks will certainly make European governments rethink their strategies and policies and push for a united front. Different countries in Europe will realize that they need to work together in order to defeat terrorism.

SS: The EU and Turkey have come to an agreement on the refugee issue. In a nutshell – Turkey gets financial aid and promises of European integration, in exchange for taking in refugees who fail to get asylum in the EU. As a former prime minister and current member of the Senate, do you think this deal is good for France? Does it benefit your country?

J-P R: This deal is not perfect, and debates about it are still ongoing. The important thing here, and this is France’s stance, is that Turkey and the EU should be able to deal with each other on issues of common concern and act as good neighbours, for example, when it comes to refugees. We’ve stated on numerous occasions – and this policy stance was adopted under Jacques Chirac – that we don’t want Turkey to join the European Union  and that we don’t believe that Turkey is in a position to do so at the moment. But we want there to be agreement between the EU and Turkey, as well as other countries, big and small, bordering Europe, and to have neighbourly relations. In the spheres where we have common problems, we need an agreement on mutual understanding.

It’s clear that we need an agreement with Turkey now. Such an agreement shouldn’t envisage Turkey’s future accession to the EU. Personally, I think this can’t be a condition for making the deal. On the contrary, we need an agreement with Turkey to tackle the refugee crisis, and we also need a visa regime agreement, because we can’t allow free movement across our border without thorough control. We need a deal which would allow us to prevent terrorists, including those that are posing as migrants and refugees, from entering the EU.

SS: Even if the EU manages to limit the flow of refugees arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey, and the refugees stop trying to get to Europe via the Aegean Sea, what’s to stop them from picking alternative routes? There’s the Mediterranean route, and the Libyan refugees will keep coming...

J-P R: You know, this situation is by and large the result of the ongoing war in the Middle East and instability, particularly in Africa. The EU is extremely concerned about this influx of refugees and migrants, as their numbers are growing with each new crisis. This is why we believe that it’s necessary to foster a development policy in the countries that border the EU, including Africa. I think it’s crucial to help African nations develop in a self-sustainable way – in partnership with us, of course, but still in a self-sustainable way.

We’re seriously considering the possibility of creating a trilateral partnership between the EU, China and Africa to support the development projects in Africa. Thus, by facilitating more balanced development in the world in general, and in Africa in particular, we will be able to limit the influx of refugees and migrants into Europe.

SS: The EU says it will take in 72,000 Syrian migrants from Turkey this year and send all the other new arrivals back to Turkey. The number of refugees is much larger than 72,000. How do you know that Turkey will be able to cope with such a massive flow of migrants that previously went on to Europe?

J-P R: We’re extremely concerned about Turkey’s capabilities to accept all the refugees. Discussions on this matter are still ongoing and it’s unlikely that we will be able to end this debate in the near future. We do need solid guarantees from Turkey. We are now willing to cooperate with Turkey and we openly say so. However, we still have a number of political differences with Turkey.

There are grounds for concern and I don’t think that it will be possible to resolve this issue completely. Obviously, there has to be more transparency in EU-Turkey relations, particularly when it comes to Turkey’s strategy in the Middle East and its role in the fight against terrorism, exchanging intelligence data, stepping up efforts to combat Islamic State and other terrorist groups. We have a lot of work to do in this respect. We have to strive for transparency. It’s in everybody’s interest.

SS: As part of the deal, the EU will provide Turkey with financial aid. The initial sum was 3 billion euros; now they are talking about 6 billion. Don’t you think that Turkey may eventually blackmail Europe, demanding more and more money in exchange for assistance with refugees?

J-P R: Turkey has made an important contribution to tackling the refugee crisis, no matter how you look at it. We understand that it came at a cost for Turkey. You have to be fair in your assessment: those who receive refugees should be able to count on solidarity from other countries. We understand that Turkey did a lot, so this issue is not about blackmail. Turkey did a lot, and will have to do more. It makes perfect sense for Europe to support these efforts financially. We need a treaty that will cover all these points, a treaty that will cover arrangements for refugees and will clearly define the contribution of the countries providing funds.

SS: Who will bear the financial burden? Paris and Berlin?

J-P R: Everybody should work together. Tackling the refugee crisis means acting in solidarity and demands concerted efforts. The countries receiving refugees and migrants are entitled to assistance. This is only logical and is completely in line with the European core beliefs and ideals.

SS: Human rights organizations, like Amnesty International, claim that refugees are abused in Turkey. They live in questionable conditions, and there are reports of some of them simply sent back to where they came from. Can the EU really regard Turkey as a safe place for refugees?

J-P R: Frankly, I don’t quite agree with Turkish policies on a number of issues. France and Turkey are partners, but we also have our differences, including on the issue of human rights, which we are especially concerned about. As for refugees, we certainly believe that their rights should be respected, but it’s not just Turkey’s responsibility.  There is a war going on, and people are fleeing their homes. These people are facing extreme poverty, they’re in a very difficult situation and when you have a military conflict, nobody typically cares about human rights, whether it’s Turkey or any other country. Obviously, we need to take care of this situation; we need to protect people’s rights. But you have to realize that war is the biggest enemy of human rights.

SS: Under this new treaty, the EU and Turkey are agreeing to open talks on Turkey’s accession to the EU. At the same time we’re seeing human rights abuses - Turkish authorities have launched an offensive against Turkish Kurds. Journalists reporting from the area say that, based on eyewitness accounts, Turkish forces are massacring civilians. Is the EU ready to accept take in a country where war is raging on?

J-P R: No, the position of France and the French people remains unchanged. We think the EU should put its expansion plans on hold for now. We see that some of our problems in the EU stem from the fact that we cared more about expanding our union than about deepening our ties. Today, we no longer need the EU to expand geographically. We think that Turkey can’t join the EU any time soon, and there’s nothing here to discuss. But it is important for the EU to engage in dialogue with its  neighbours. There are many things we should be discussing with Turkey, and not just refugees; we should be talking about the economy, agriculture, among other things. It would be good to have a treaty with Turkey but certainly not a treaty on Turkey joining the European Union.

Europe needs to follow a good neighbour policy, and we have taken some steps in this direction. We need to play an active role in the processes that take place on European borders, that involve both EU countries and our neighbours. Such an approach is possible in the future, but it should be based on EU-Turkey partnership, not Turkey membership in the EU.

SS: Turkey is France’s ally in the anti-ISIS coalition but Turks are at the same time attacking Syrian Kurds who are also France’s allies in the anti-ISIS coalition. How does this affect the coalition’s battle against ISIS? Does France have any leverage over Turkey in this matter - can it apply any pressure on its Turkish allies?

J-P R: We are greatly concerned by the differences in strategy we observe between different anti-terrorist coalitions. I think we should clarify our position in this respect. We’ve been talking to our Russian friends about this, and we were very concerned when Turkish jets shot down a Russian plane. There are a number of issues that concern us. We see that Iran and Saudi Arabia have their agenda in the war in the Middle East; they are pursuing their own goals, and sometimes certain countries put their own interests above fighting terrorism. Turkey has its own issues with Kurds, and the fact that there is a war going on only adds to the nervousness of the situation.

So the tension is rising, with one issue, another issue - keeps piling up. But we in France think it is very important to clearly state your priorities. You know that France together with its partners has stated that our highest priority is to defeat Islamic State, defeat terrorists. We may have other goals as well, but they are not our priority. Our priority is to fight the terrorist threat.

SS: RT sent its footage and eyewitness accounts of alleged mass killings in Turkish Kurdistan to international organizations - the UN, the Red Cross. Will they react to this evidence? Or nobody wants to risk ruining relations with Turkey?

J-P R: I think this is a pretty serious matter, and we certainly need to establish the truth. The war in the Middle East is extremely confusing, and many parties involved have hidden agendas, pursue their own narrow interests. International organizations should act decisively if they can contribute here. I think that international organizations can promote this discussion and clarify the situation. I think it would be completely unacceptable if terrorists were to gain ground due to disagreements among us. We can’t afford to pursue our private interests  at the expense of our common fight against terrorists. We want the coalition to focus on fighting terrorists. The fight against Islamic State should be our top priority. After the terrorist attacks in Brussels, we have to step up our efforts in the Middle East. Daesh is our true enemy, our No. 1 enemy.

SS: You say that France is stronger when it pursues an independent policy. But how independent can France really be? Isn’t it bound by the position of other EU countries?

J-P R: France must remain independent. It should talk to its American friends, and it should also talk to its Russian friends. It must also take into account the possibility of Iran becoming one of the world's leading nations. Traditionally, France has also had close ties with the Gulf countries. France should remain independent; it should keep the doors open. In the current conflict that is raging in the Middle East, and in particular in Syria. France does not have any hidden agenda in this war. We just fight Daesh, plain and simple.

Globally, France wants to talk to all the important players. We in France welcome the fact that our dialogue with Russia has been resumed to a certain degree. But I believe as time goes by, these small steps won’t be enough. Great powers clearly should talk to each other and jointly find a way to peace. We have a common destiny, and peace cannot be achieved by confronting each other. Peace can only be achieved through collective efforts, and this requires mutual respect. This is, in short, the message that France wants to convey.

SS: Former European Commission Chief Romano Prodi told me that the EU cannot lead an independent foreign policy, that EU foreign policy decisions are made under pressure from the United States. Why isn’t the EU strong enough to act in an independent manner?

J-P R: I’m certain that at this point, the European Union is indeed strong enough to be able to pursue its own, independent diplomatic line. This is the objective of the European council. But, on the other hand, it`s also true that the United States is trying to impose its ideas on European policy.

There have been many recent cases of the U.S. attempting to push its vision – like in case of the situation in Ukraine, or with the issue of Nato. But there have also  been many instances lately when the U.S. has stepped back from discussions - and that’s because Obama’s term in office is coming to an end soon.

Of course it`s important that the EU asserts its independence. France, in particular, has always had an independent vision of foreign policy. I can tell you that the French Parliament, and me personally, participated in a meeting of the Commission of Foreign Affairs of the French Senate with the delegation of the Council of the Russian Federation. Together we have declared that we stand for an independent French foreign policy, and at the same time, we want to re-establish a dialogue of trust with Russia. We have our disagreements, but let’s not forget we also have a lot of things we agree on. In any case, two old friends like France and Russia, two old civilisations, two economies who need each other have to keep dialogue open. This is the position that the French parliament defends.