Turkey and France: external tension of internal problems
Realnoe Vremya’s columnist about the nature of relationships between France and Turkey
Amid the scandals and attacks agitating France, the country’s relations with its NATO ally — Turkey — have worsened. Diplomatic twists and turns in foreign policy, a tense domestic state of affairs in both countries, as Realnoe Vremya’s columnist Bulat Nogmanov notes, altogether create fertile ground for searching and cultivating external foes and dangers. Nogmanov analyses in detail what’s in the basis of the current Franco-Turkish relationships and at the root of the latest events.
The relationships of two NATO allies Turkey and France were accompanied by diplomatic twists and turns last week as well as in whole October. The squabble between the two countries’ leaders was replaced by expression of condolences and criticism of any kind of terror amid the cruel murder of French teacher Samuel Paty, a scandal with the projection of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad on the building the city administration in Montpellier and Toulouse and with caricatures of Erdoğan himself, a mutual boycott of commodities as well as a terrorist attack on Notre-Dame cathedral in Nice.
We should also note that the domestic political and economic situation both in Turkey and France isn’t in its heyday. Opposition is catching up, while economic indicators keep falling amid the exacerbating situation with coronavirus. All this creates fertile ground for searching and cultivating external foes and dangers. Moreover, both states have grandiose plans in foreign policy, which, as we learnt in diplomacy classes, are natural continuations of the processes happening inside a country. What’s more, these international ambitions play into domestic political tasks’ hands in both hands at times by coming across and clashing at different vectors.
In today’s essay, we will try to analyse key points of Turkish-French relationships amid the above-described events.
Two weeks to the cruel assassination of Samuel Paty, Emmanuel Macron claimed the necessity of preparing a bill on the fight against religious separatism in which he presented Islam as a religion that’s in crisis in all corners of the world. He also claims that Islamic separatism was becoming institutional and was a political and religious project that made points contradicting French values a reality.
To put it simply, this means an attempt of taking Islam under control and creating some version of French Islam, which is loyal to the dynamics of French society and shares French values. Moreover, the bill is considered to put an end to French imams’ overseas learning who used to get knowledge mainly in Turkey and Near Eastern and North African countries.
Without doubt, with this initiative, Mr Macron is trying to cement his positions in the 2020 presidential election shows reverence to the right-wing national part of society. It seems that the accidental coincidence of the murder of Samuel Paty and the French president’s initiative in time will help consolidate the biggest part of French society around the current leader. At least police raids have already begun in houses and organisations that are suspected of links with radical Islamists, about 200 people have been expelled from the country and investigations on 50 religious associations have begun.
On the other hand, the French initiative gets into a certain confrontation with a Turkish project envisaging turning Turkey into an “assembly point” of the Islamic world. The office of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) founded in Cologne in 1984 precisely promotes the idea of protection of Muslims’ rights and freedoms in Europe, which directly helps increase European Muslims’ affection for Turkey in particular and create a positive image of Turkey in general.
Of course, DITIB’s positions in France aren’t as firm as they are in Germany, as only about 6 million Muslims live in France, which is around 8% of the population, of which Turks account for no more than 700,000. Though, on the other hand, 60% of all Muslim religious associations of France are related to DITIB and at the moment the majority of mosques where Turkish imams work receiving a salary from Turkey belong precisely to DITIB.
With a harsh response to the projection of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad on buildings of the city administration in Montpellier and Toulouse, Turkey is a protector of the whole Islamic world. Erdoğan’s statements that being Islam’s enemy was equal to being the Turks’ enemy is extra evidence of it. Domestically, apart from other humanist tasks, this project pursues goals of increasing the endorsement of the current course by the religious part of Turkish society in the 2023 presidential election.
It is noteworthy here that in an attempt to nationalise local Islam France copies Turkey’s quite successful practice that began a hundred years ago with the abolition of the Caliphate and creation of a ministry on religious affairs. About 90% of Friday sermons of the early republican period are known to relate to national affairs and the general Turkish development. As a result, Turkey got a religious body of influence that is totally controlled by the state and has common goals and tasks with it.
The Turkish religious model functions quite successfully after almost century-long polishing. The only question is: will the French initiative be successful as well and will it need the same amount of time?
In the middle of this week, after the projection of the above-mentioned caricatures, the Turkish leader urged his people to boycott French goods and products. We should note that this boycott isn’t only Turkish but Muslim in general, and the majority of Arab countries are in solidarity with it in this issue. It is noteworthy in this situation that the French leader urged the people to boycott Turkish goods quite a long time ago, and different positions on the Libyan issue was the reason. In the Libyan conflict, France is on Haftar’s side, while Turkey backs the government regime.
As it is known from history, a boycott is always good for prestige, however, in the more globalising world, it is fraught with negative consequences. For a better understanding of the picture, we will provide some statistical data:
- total commodity turnover between Turkey and France in 2019 is €14,5bn;
- investments of France in Turkey’s economy total about $8bn;
- Turkey’s investments in the French economy don’t exceed $250m;
- France ranks 6th among the countries Turkey exports its goods to;
- Turkey’s export, which is a bit more than €8bn, accounts for 4% of the total exports;
- Turkey isn’t in the top 10 France exports its goods to;
- The share of export to Turkey, which is around €6bn, in the general French export amounts to approximately 1%.
It is noticeable in the layout that the situation with the mutual boycott of commodities can hit Turkey’s economy harder.
In the ideas that are periodically declared by the two countries’ leaders, here we can see those ambitions these states have on the international stage, Turkey sees itself not only as a leader of the Near Eastern and Mediterranean regions but also as a leader and protector of the whole Islamic world. In the absence of the USA, France, in turn, considers itself as a leader of united Europe and the main fighter against Islamic radicalism. The confrontation of Turkey and France in Africa, in the Mediterranean and Caucasus is an echo or even the reflection of the circumstances explained above.
Given both countries’ imperial past, this opposition can yield good domestic dividends short-term, however, in the long term, the case can end differently, since it is known that there is no room for two suns in one sky, at least, in our galaxy.