French president Francois Hollande has traveled to Turkey, and signaled a possible change in France's views on Ankara's EU bid. His trip is somewhat of an escape from media focus at home on his relationship woes.
Hollande's state visit to Turkey -. the first by a French head of state in 22 years - was billed on Monday as a bid to mend relations strained in recent years by differing views on the mass deaths of Armenians in 1915, while smoothing the way for French companies looking to do business in Turkey.
During talks on Monday, the French leader somewhat cautiously backed Ankara's aim to join the EU, despite concerns within the European Commission over the independence of the Turkish judiciary amid a Turkish government crackdown on alleged corruption.
Hollande, whose predecessor Nicolas Sakozy favored association status for Turkey instead of full accession, said Ankara should continue to negotiate on joining the EU.
He said talks would allow it to fully address concerns such as the rule of law, judicial independence, separation of powers and respect of fundamental liberties.
"The [membership] process must be carried forward with the most difficult subjects, subjects that are necessarily the hardest," Hollande said during a press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul [both pictured above].
"The negotiation process must allow Turkey to develop and show what it's capable of achieving...That is the answer that the Turks must provide," Hollande said.
Slow progress at talks
Turkey has completed 14 of 35 membership 'chapters' that must be fulfilled before it can join the EU. It resumed talks last year following a three-year hiatus.
On that, Hollande added: "Negotiations do not entail membership. The issue of membership will be decided upon at referendum."
EU rules dictate that accession of a new member requires unanimous approval by the bloc's 28 current members.
Gul did not make mention of any tension in Ankara but said the talks with the EU was a technical process with an as-yet unknown outcome.
"We respect that the accession process is one to adopt legal and democratic criteria and judicial reforms," he said. "We should not like this to become hostage to politics."
Full diplomatic ties between Turkey and France were restored two years ago after a falling out over a French law that made it illegal to deny that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 amounted to genocide. The law wasstruck down by the French Constitutional Court
Hollande's visit comes days after he announced a split from his long-term partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, following tabloid reports the leader had had an affair with actress Julie Gayet.
Hollande did not comment on his private life while in Ankara on Monday. While he was there, Trierweiler was on a trip of her own to India, for a charity against hunger.
In her first public comments since the scandal broke, Trierweiler reacted tongue-in-cheek to French journalists who had followed her across the world for their "interest in malnutrition."
When asked about her health, Trierweiler said she "felt well" and that it felt good to be on the trip.
"I have the impression I'm being useful for something. Don't worry about me," she told reporters.
jr/ipj (AFP, Reuters, AP)