Erdogan and Macron meet in Paris amid strained Brussels-Ankara ties

French President Emmanuel Macron right and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan left look on as European aircraft manufacturer Airbus CEO Tom Enders, center left, and Turkish aircraft maintenance centre Turkish Technic Chairman of the Board Mehmet Ilker Ayci, center right, sign agreements at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Friday, Jan.5, 2018. Erdogan is traveling to Paris for talks with Macron, amid protests over press freedom and the deteriorating state of human rights in Turkey. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

France witnessed protests over press freedom and human rights, as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with his counterpart Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

It’s Erdogan’s first trip to France since a failed coup in 2016, and a government crack-down condemned by the EU. CGTN’s Kevin Ozebek reports on a cordial meeting with deep divides.

The presidents of Turkey and France vowed to strengthen security and trade ties, but these two allies also had their sharp disagreements.

First and foremost was their view on journalists. “There are so-called gardeners of terror and terrorists. These gardeners are those people viewed as thinkers. They write in their newspapers, their columns, as if watering them,” said Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s President.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that if Turkey wants more support from the EU, Turkey’s view of the press must change. With thousands of civil servants and more than a hundred journalists sitting in Turkish jails Macron said that Turkey’s bid to join the EU should remain frozen. “It is clear that recent developments and choices allow no progress in the process that is under way,” stated the French head of state.

EU-Turkey relations began to deteriorate when President Erdogan consolidated power after a botched coup failed to oust him in 2016. In the aftermath, he considered bringing back the death penalty, locked up tens of thousands of people, and further cracked down on press freedom.

Ahead of his arrival here in Paris, Reporters without Borders members rallied outside the Turkish embassy.

Protesters carried portraits of some of the more than one hundred journalists locked up in Turkish prisons. When he said that Turkish journalists are in jail because they’re terrorists or spies, no. They’re in jail just because they did their jobs,” Christophe Deloire from Reporters Without Borders said.

Still, the EU and Turkey are NATO partners. And the EU has a multi-billion dollar aid deal with Turkey to house refugees that has slowed the continent’s migration crisis.

They disagree on human rights but analysts said these neighbors need each other. “It’s not a relationship that can be thrown away, and sure there is a lot of difficulties in the relationship. There’s big concerns about the state of democracy in Turkey but at the same time it’s not in the EU’s benefit to isolate Turkey further to cut them out,” explained Amanda Paul from the European Policy Centre.

The fact that Erodgan came to Paris to meet with Macron showed the growing influence of France. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel continues to struggle to build a coalition back home, President Macron emerges as the leader in the EU with the most post power and clout in EU foreign policy.