Turkey Urges France to Kill Genocide Bill

PARIS (Turkish Daily News)–Democratic Left Party Istanbul Deputy Mumtaz Soysal–a former foreign minister and professor of constitutional law–urged the French government to challenge the controversial "Armenian Genocide bill" in the French Constitutional Council but received a reply that such a move would not be "politically feasible."

Arriving in Paris as president of a four-person parliamentary team–Soysal met with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine last Tuesday to discuss the French draft law that passed in the National Assembly last month. The single-item bill states that "France publicly recognizes the Armenian genocide of 1915." Turks–responding to the vote with a harsh statement–have vowed to react to the bill with economic and political measures. In the most recent diplomatic attempt to "kill" the bill–Soysal arrived to argue in Paris that such a bill–which lacks any reference to how this "recognition" would be implemented–is "unconstitutional" and should be taken to the Constitutional Council–a court that judges the constitutionality of laws and official texts.

There are several ways of submitting a law to the Constitutional Council. It can be done by the president of the republic–the prime minister–the president of the national assembly–the president of the senate or by any of the 60 deputies or senators. This last option was added in 1974.

Soysal based his claim of the bill’s "unconstitutionality" on Article 34 of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic. The 1958 Constitution makes a clear distinction between the domain of law and the domain of government. Thus–under the limits defined in Article 34–the National Assembly–which is the lower house of the bicameral French Parliament–cannot pass a law like the "Armenian Genocide bill." The Constitution says that foreign policy must be carried out by the Foreign Ministry. Although the Foreign Ministry answers to Parliament–Parliament can neither carry out nor execute foreign policy.

According to a French Foreign Ministry spokesman–when Soysal invoked the potential "unconstitutionality" of the single-item bill–Vedrine "noted the constitutional expertise of Soysal" but added that it did not seem "politically feasible" for the government–i.e. the prime minister–to take it to the Constitutional Council.

Government spokesman Yves Doutriaux quoted Minister Vedrine as saying that such a move would not be made because of "political realities." The bill–proposed by deputies of the governing Socialist Party–was unanimously accepted by the National Assembly. A move by the government to challenge a bill proposed by its own party’s deputies runs the risk of furthering the schism between "moderate left" Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and the Socialist Party’s parliamentary heavyweights.

"This bill has nothing to do with foreign policy," Vedrine reportedly told the Turkish side. "This happened in the past."

His spokesman–Doutriaux–repeated the same line to a group of Turkish journalists: "We will not change our policy towards Turkey. Anyway–this was not demanded by the National Assembly. During the debate in the assembly–all deputies said that this did not in any way target modern Turkey."

Vedrine–in a veiled reference to Turkey’s relationship with Europe–urged Turkey not to overreact to the parliamentary vote. "We hope to have positive ties with Turkey on the bilateral and European Union level," the minister said–reminding Turkey of France’s support of Ankara’s EU drive and its financial assistance to Turkey. Bill not on Senate’s agenda On the day of the meeting between Vedrine and the Turkish parliamentary team–the Senate Presidency set its agenda until the end of the present term–but–for the time being–did not include the Armenian genocide bill. The Senate–however–updates its agenda each Tuesday. In order for this bill to become law–it has to next pass through the Senate.

Diplomatic sources from both the Turkish and the French sides indicated that the item was not a "first priority" and that its discussion could be delayed until as far away as next Autumn–when the next Senate elections will occur. It has even been hinted that the French government is trying to "bury the bill in the Senate," meaning that it would be delayed a while–or even be shelved–there.

However–the "burial of the bill in the Senate" falls short of Turkish expectations–according to DSP Izmir Deputy Hakan Tartan. "It is good–for bilateral relations–that the debate on the bill was not put onto the agenda of the Senate. However–what we prefer is neither the suspension nor the burial of the bill in the Senate–but the actual killing of it," Tartan advised the TDN. "I told the deputies here that this draft law has created a great outburst in Turkey."

While the meeting with Vedrine is considered to be the most important part of the visit–the Turkish delegation met Wednesday with the diplomatic councilors of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and will meet on Thursday with members of the Senate as well as with presidential advisers.


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