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The “Armenian Genocide”, Sarkozy, Turkey and the European Union (Maj)

(BRUSSELS2) With the bill on the “Armenian genocide”, which has just been adopted in the National Assembly, officially to transpose European legislation aimed at combating racism and xenophobia (*), the French president is a point with several bands: electoral and national first, but then European.

An electoral coup first

The first shot is very visible. This project, officially tabled by the parliamentary majority, but in a government niche and with the support of the government, is first of all for electoral purposes. The Armenian minority does not only reach a few hundred thousand people (600.000 in total); it is especially concentrated in certain cities (Marseille, Paris region – Hauts de Seine in particular, the department of Nicolas Sarkozy) and can swing certain votes at a crucial moment. Recognition of the genocide was an electoral promise of candidate Sarkozy in 2007; responding to it is a way of saying: “you see I keep my promises”.

The second blow will come: it consists in putting in difficulty the Socialists, majority in the Senate, who will now have to decide on a difficult question, criticize the President and antagonize the Armenians, or endorse this decision and therefore give reason to the President.

The third move is more sneaky and consists of banking on the Turkish reaction. By threatening French economic interests with reprisals, by reacting to Algeria and the “genocide” committed by the French, the Turkish government above all gives the French president a serious boost, since he appears to be the best defender of France facing the outside world (a Gaullian gloss is never bad during an election period). This is especially true since the Armenian minority has a rather good image in France.

But also a rimpact on the future enlargement process

The fourth move is more European; it interests us more. Nicolas Sarkozy's French position on Turkey is no secret. He does not have the soul (or at least no longer the soul) to support the process of accession of the former Ottoman Empire to the European Union. More generally, he is also reluctant to take any additional steps from another country in this moment of crisis. At the last European Council, on December 9, he was angry about Croatia's accession: “it's nonsense. (…) how do you expect us to get along at 28 when we already can’t do it at 27.” Putting his words into action, he also avoided the signing ceremony of the Croatian accession treaty.

The Turkish reaction today provides the French with a solid, irrefutable argument to refuse any new progress in the process of Turkey's accession to the European Union. This prospect which seemed more and more hypothetical (including for the Turks) could thus, tomorrow, be reduced to almost zero. Because France is not isolated on this subject, Germany or Austria – not to mention Cyprus and Greece – are also reluctant to this process. And no one still knows how Turkish-European relations will unfold in the light of the Cypriot presidency of the European Union which begins in a few months, on July 1st...

(*) Decision of November 28, 2008 obliges each State to sanction "the public apology, negation or gross trivialization of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity?" and war crimes. In French law, only the “gross public trivialization” of these crimes is not yet covered by criminal law, according to the Law Commission of the National Assembly. It is on this point that the French project essentially concerns the transposition of the European standard. On other elements (the Armenian genocide), European law is silent; it does not require qualifying a particular event in history as genocide.

The text of the bill on the national assembly website so the video of the December 22 session

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).