European Union leaders are widely expected to give accession talks with Turkey a green light during a two-day summit in Brussels that starts on Thursday.
Soon to be joined by EU flags?
In October, the European Commission recommended that the EU begin membership talks with Turkey after assessing Ankara’s political and economic reforms to meet EU membership requirements.
According to the EU’s so-called Copenhagen Criteria, candidate countries must have or be working towards stable institutions responsible for human rights, justice and democracy.
They must also have an economy able to cope with competitive market forces within the EU and adhere to EU aims of political, economic and monetary union.
In an effort to bolster its chances of entering the now 25-member bloc, Turkey has introduced a raft of economic and political reforms coinciding with the membership criteria.
Amanda Akacakoca, an analyst with the European Policy Institute in Brussels, said accession talks are expected to last 10 years -- but already Turkey is worried about the EU shifting its goal posts.
"Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Forever," reads the sign on the roof at the border crossing on the island
"The key things that are worrying Turkey are the things relating to the recognition of Cyprus, additional clauses that have been attached and usual fears over migration of labor – trying to put a permanent cap on it," she said. "Turkey perceives some of these things as being new pre-conditions."
Cyprus a central issue
The EU is demanding that Turkey tacitly recognize the Greek half of divided Cyprus before accession talks begin, but Ankara is refusing to do so, saying this is not part of the Copenhagen Criteria and that it is a matter for the UN.
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 when Turkish troops occupied the northern part of the island in response to a coup by the then ruling military junta in Greece.
The Greek-Cypriot part of Cyprus joined the EU on May 1 after it rejected a UN plan to reunify the island.
Flags of Turkey, right, and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state, center, fly behind a statue of a Turkish soldier in the Turkish capital of Ankara
Turkey is the only country that recognizes the self-declared government of the Turkish-Cypriots in the island’s north.
Over the last few weeks, Cyprus has played a game of hot and cold over whether it was going to veto Turkey’s membership bid.
Akacakoca said Cypriot leaders are playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship to force Ankara’s hand.
"Cyprus still has the shadow of the Annan plan hanging over him," she said, referring to a peace plan drawn up by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. "From Turkey’s point of view, they did everything possible to bring about a 'yes' from the Turkish Cypriots so they believe that it is very unfair for them to be asked to recognize the Republic of Cyprus beforehand. “
Turkey has the support of Germany and France, but French President Jacques Chirac, faced with domestic opposition over Turkish accession, suggested the possible need for a “plan B” for Ankara if talks failed.
Austria and Denmark proposed a “privileged partnership” arguing that the EU would not be able to absorb Turkey’s growing population, which is now at 70 million.
Analysts say by the time it joins, Turkey would be the most populous nation in the EU thereby giving it the most voting power within the population-based voting system under the bloc’s constitution.
Turkey has dismissed suggestions for a "plan B," saying that talks should lead to full membership, not second class status.
Latest opinion polls showed the majority of Europeans, particularly from the original 15 member states are against Turkey joining the EU. The majority of resistance comes from Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Finland, the Netherlands and France.
"Old Europe" has problems
Akacakoca said those living in “old Europe” have a problem with Turkey’s Asian and non-Christian heritage.
The Ottoman era Blue Mosque in Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet district at sunset on Wednesday
“I think it's just something that’s been talked about a lot to put greater fears into public opinion," she said. "If you look back at the previous enlargement of 10 countries, people weren’t asked what their opinion was, it wasn’t a big issue. It’s only become an issue because of Turkey being a Muslim state." Turkey says its membership in the EU will bring economic and cultural advantages to the 25 nation bloc. It has 10 to 15 years to convince the EU of that.