PARIS - French President Emmanuel Macron suggested Friday that Turkey should renounce its ambition of joining the EU and settle instead for a looser “partnership” after talks with visiting Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey was hoping to warm frosty relations with Europe during Erdogan’s trip to Paris, but the talks were overshadowed by concerns over Turkey’s huge crackdown after a 2016 failed coup.

Macron said there was no chance of Turkey’s membership bid, which has been languishing for years, moving forward. “I’d be lying if I said we could open new chapters,” he said in reference to the accession process.

“As regards recent relations with the European Union, it is clear that recent developments and choices allow no chance for progress in the process,” Macron said after what he described as “very frank” talks with Turkey’s strongman.

“We must list the subjects that are blocking things from the EU’s perspective... and see if we cannot rethink this relationship, not in terms of an integration process but a cooperation, a partnership,” he added at a joint press conference. He emphasised however that he wanted to see Turkey “remain anchored to Europe”. Erdogan said that Turkey’s 54-year wait to join the EU was “seriously exhausting” the Turkish people and that he might be forced “to take a decision.” He did not specify what that might be but admitted: “We don’t really have an attitude of ‘let us in’ (to the EU) anymore.”

 Swipe at French


The visit was Erdogan’s first to France since the botched putsch against him, which triggered a sweeping purge of the public service and an intensified crackdown on the media, civil society and opposition. It came after a year in which Turkish-European relations hit a low point, with Erdogan notably accusing Chancellor Angela Merkel of “Nazi practices” for refusing to let his ministers campaign in Germany.

Macron’s invitation to Erdogan drew sharp criticism from the French left, trade unions and rights groups, and a group of Kurdish demonstrators who attempted to demonstrate outside the Elysee Palace on Friday were arrested.

The Reporters Without Borders group protested outside the Turkish embassy in Paris, holding aloft stencilled portraits of imprisoned journalists.

The French presidency insisted on the need to “maintain dialogue” without “covering up differences”.

Tensions spilled over during Erdogan’s meeting with the French press when a journalist pressed him on a report that Turkish intelligence services shipped arms to radical groups in Syria.

“Do not speak with the mouth of FETO,” Erdogan retorted, referring to the Fethullah Terror Organisation - the term Ankara uses for the movement of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of being behind the failed coup as well as the Syria arms report.

- Macron criticism on rights -

Macron chided Erdogan over his rights record.

Over 140,000 Turks have been sacked or suspended from their jobs and over 55,000 officials, security force members, judges, academics, journalists, politicians and activists been arrested since the coup.

Referring to the jailing of dozens of journalists, whose cases the two leader discussed in detail, he said: “Democracies must fully respect the rule of law”.

While admitting that he and Erdogan were in “disagreement on our vision of individual liberties”, Macron noted that France had been able to obtain the release last year of two French journalists held in Turkey.

Erdogan insisted: “Turkey is a state based on the rule of law, the judiciary is independent.”

Areas where they signalled agreement included fighting terrorism, with Macron describing their cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State group as “exemplary”, and Syria, on which he hailed a “communion of views”.

The Paris visit was also about trade, with Turkey signing accords on an antimissile defence projet with a Franco-Italian consortium and on purchases of new planes from European planemaker Airbus.

Erdogan met later Friday with Pierre Gattaz, head of the French employers’ federation Medef.

- ‘New start’ with Germany -

His visit had been billed as a chance to turn the page on a torrid year for EU-Turkey ties in 2017.

In a column for the German newspaper group Funke on Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu - who is heading to Berlin at the weekend for talks - called for a “new start” in relations with that country also.

For Macron, hosting Erdogan was another diplomatic gamble after visits from US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin last year.

A relative newcomer to politics and diplomacy, he has made it his goal to bolster France’s standing on the world stage.